The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up a case from a victim of sex trafficking who sought to hold Reddit, an online platform, responsible for hosting images of child pornography on the website.
The dispute was the latest targeting a section of federal law that offers broad immunity to online platforms. Earlier this month, the court handed Google and Twitter a victory preserving their ability under the same law – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – to avoid lawsuits stemming from terrorist-related content.
“After the justices avoided any meaningful ruling on the scope of immunity for tech companies in the Google case, today’s denial of review in the Reddit case suggests that their aversion was more than just about the Google case, specifically – and that the court is willing, at least for now, to leave any changes to Section 230 to Congress,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“There are other important big tech cases in the pipeline, but this seems to confirm that the justices aren’t going to come back to Section 230 anytime soon,” Vladeck said.
In the case at hand, the woman identified as “Jane Doe” in court papers was joined by parents of minors who say their daughters were coerced into providing sexually explicit images that were later posted on the site.
Doe’s lawyer said in court papers that she was a minor when her then-boyfriend created multiple videos of the two of them engaging in sex, sometimes without her knowledge, and posted them online. She reported the content to Reddit and said it took days to remove the content but then allowed it to be reposted.
The lawyer charged that the website “creates a thriving platform for child pornography and sex trafficking” and that it “knowingly benefits from child sex trafficking through its receipt and distribution of child pornography.”
A district court concluded that Section 230 bars such claims because it immunizes Reddit. A federal appeals court affirmed the ruling.
In court papers, lawyers for Reddit said the site “works hard to locate and prevent the sharing of child pornography” on its website and that its content policy prohibits the sharing of any child sexual exploitation materials. Reddit claims that it gives all users the ability to flag posts and that it regularly removes images that violate its policies.
The website further argued that it should not be treated as the creator of unlawful content.
CNN has reached out to Reddit for comment.