The Supreme Court
has ruled that Facebook
can be held liable for sex trafficking
carried out on its social media
platforms, after several victims accused the company of knowingly benefiting from its online facilitation.
According to the Houston
Chronicle, the state Supreme Court's decision on Friday allows three civil lawsuits filed by victims of human trafficking
against Facebook to proceed. The court determined that current laws do not allow Facebook, or any other website, to act as a "lawless no-man's-land."
The victims have accused Facebook of violating a state anti-trafficking law passed in 2009, Chapter 98 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, which holds a defendant liable to the victim if he or she traffics a person or benefits from the act.
In February, Facebook asked the court to dismiss three lawsuits filed by three women
who claimed that as teenagers, they were drawn into the sex trade by pimps using the company's social media platforms.
In one of the cases reported by the Chronicle, the victim stated that she was 14 years old when she was contacted by a man on Instagram
, which is owned by Facebook. She claimed that the man ended up raping her and advertising her as a prostitute on Instagram. After the girl was rescued from the operation, her Instagram profile continued to be used to lure in other minors.
The plaintiffs accuse Facebook of “creating a breeding ground for sex traffickers to stalk and entrap survivors.” Instead of implementing safeguards requiring user identity verification and being more selective with its advertising, the company is accused of increasing its profit margins.
Facebook argued that Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, enacted in 1996, shields online service providers from liability for content posted by their users, as well as liability for regulating it.
The Texas justices, however, rejected that blanket defense on Friday, arguing that Facebook played a role in facilitating the illicit behavior, and noting that Congress
amended Section 230 in 2018 to allow for civil liability to be imposed on websites that violate state and federal human trafficking laws.
“We do not understand Section 230 to ‘create a lawless no-man’s-land on the Internet’ where states
are powerless to impose liability on websites that knowingly or intentionally participate in the evil of online human trafficking,” the justices wrote in their majority opinion.
Facebook stated that it is weighing its options for the future.
“Sex trafficking is abhorrent and not permitted on Facebook,” a spokesperson said in a statement, adding, “We will continue to fight the spread of this content and the predators who engage in it.”
According to a lawyer for one of the victims who has filed a lawsuit against Facebook, their work
does not end here.
“Our clients have fought for over two years for the opportunity to bring their case,” said attorney Annie McAdams in a statement. “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. With the help of Chapter 98 protection, we believe trafficking survivors in Texas can expose and hold Facebook accountable.
According to a 2020 report by the Human Trafficking Institute, the internet has been the most popular location for human trafficking recruitment since 2013.
According to the report, Facebook was the site of more than half of all online victim recruitments in sex trafficking cases in 2020, “making it by far the most frequently referenced website or app in public sources connected with these prosecutions, which was also true in 2019.”
Following Facebook, the two most frequently cited social media platforms for recruiting child
victims were Instagram and Snapchat
If you need assistance, call RAINN's National Sexual Assault
Online Hotline or go to the website of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.