Facebook may be held accountable for knowingly benefitting from sex traffickers who have used the social network to ensnare victims, a Texas court has ruled.
Three women who say they were forced as teenagers into prostitution by abusers on the site will be allowed to go forward with a suit against the company, Texas Supreme Court Justice James Blacklock ruled Friday.
Facebook had moved to dismiss the women’s claims under section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, which holds that websites are not liable for users’ posts, arguing that the company could not be blamed for the actions of its users.
But Blacklock was not having Facebook’s argument.
“We do not understand section 230 to ‘create a lawless no-man’s-land on the Internet’ in which states are powerless to impose liability on websites that knowingly or intentionally participate in the evil of online human trafficking,” he wrote.
Blacklock also noted that Congress amended section 230 in 2018 to allow websites to be held liable for violating state and federal human trafficking laws.
In the suit, originally filed in 2018, the three unnamed women accused the company of running “an unrestricted platform to stalk, exploit, recruit, groom, and extort children into the sex trade.”
One of the young women said she was recruited for a “modeling” job on Facebook at age 15, then raped, beaten and forced into prostitution. Two others were allegedly “groomed” as underage teens and then forced to become prostitutes by men who contacted them through Instagram.
Judge Blacklock ruled that if the three women can prove in further litigation that Facebook was knowingly or intentionally benefitting from their abuse, the company can be held liable under a Texas state code called Chapter 98.
“The statutory claim for knowingly or intentionally benefiting from participation in a human-trafficking venture is not barred by section 230 and may proceed to further litigation,” he wrote.
A spokesperson for Facebook told The Post that the company was “reviewing the decision and considering potential next steps.”
“Sex trafficking is abhorrent and not allowed on Facebook,” the spokesperson added. “We will continue our fight against the spread of this content and the predators who engage in it.”
Lawyers for the three women praised Friday’s decision.
“While we have a long road ahead, we are grateful that the Texas Supreme Court will allow these courageous trafficking survivors to have their day in court against Facebook,” attorney Annie McAdams, who is representing the women, said in a statement.
David E. Harris, another attorney representing the women, said, “We believe Facebook has an obligation to safeguard its users, both through its online platform and otherwise, of the dangers of human traffickers using Facebook as a tool to entrap and enslave children into sex trafficking.”