- The Texas Supreme Court ruled that Facebook can be held liable for sex trafficking recruitment.
- Facebook argued that it should not be held liable because it is shielded by Section 230.
- A recent report found most online recruitment in active sex trafficking cases in 2020 was on Facebook.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that Facebook can be held liable for sex traffickers that use its platform to recruit and prey on child victims.
As the Houston Chronicle reported, the ruling followed three local lawsuits involving teenage victims who had met their traffickers through Facebook’s messaging tools. The plaintiffs said Facebook was negligent and did not attempt to key sex trafficking off its technology.
Facebook has argued that it is shielded by the protections of Section 230 — part of an internet law that states online platforms are not liable for what people post on their services — and should therefore not be held responsible for what is posted on its platform.
But the Texas Supreme Court said Section 230 doesn’t mean Facebook can operate as a “lawless no-man’s-land,” as the Chronicle reported.
“Holding internet platforms accountable for the words or actions of their users is one thing, and the federal precedent uniformly dictates that section 230 does not allow it,” the majority of the court said, per the Chronicle. “Holding internet platforms accountable for their own misdeeds is quite another thing. This is particularly the case for human trafficking.”
A Facebook spokesperson told Insider that the company is “reviewing the decision and considering potential next steps. Sex trafficking is abhorrent and not allowed on Facebook. We will continue our fight against the spread of this content and the predators who engage in it.”
Section 230 has become the focus of conversations surrounding moderation on internet platforms. Many have called for tech companies to be treated as publishers, since news outlets are alternatively held liable for what they post online.
Online recruitment for sex trafficking victims has surged over the years, and a recent report from the Human Trafficking Institute found that most online recruitment in active cases last year occurred on Facebook.
“The internet has become the dominant tool that traffickers use to recruit victims, and they often recruit them on a number of very common social networking websites,” Human Trafficking Institute CEO Victor Boutros told CBS News earlier this month. “Facebook overwhelmingly is used by traffickers to recruit victims in active sex trafficking cases.”