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Supreme Court Throws Out Lawsuit Against Reddit Over Child Pornography

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The Supreme Court refused to take up a lawsuit on May 30 against Reddit over its alleged hosting of child pornography on the social media website.

The case is Doe v. Reddit Inc., court file 22-695. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition in an unsigned order. No justices dissented. The court did not explain its new decision.

The order came after the Supreme Court sidestepped a challenge on May 18 to Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996, which generally prevents internet platforms and internet service providers from being held liable for what users say on them. Big Tech and its supporters say the legal provision, sometimes called “the 26 words that created the internet,” has fostered a climate online in which free speech has flourished.

In that case, victims’ families sued Twitter, Google, and Facebook after deadly Islamic terrorist attacks overseas. The families argued that the Big Tech companies were liable because they allowed terrorist videos to be posted online or failed to do enough to police the terrorist accounts posting the videos. The Supreme Court ruled for the companies.

Both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have attacked Section 230, calling for it to be repealed, but on May 18 the Supreme Court avoided ruling on the Section 230 issue, much to the relief of the tech companies.

Section 230 was amended in 2018 by the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which created an exception that permits lawsuits against internet companies if the underlying claim is related to child sex trafficking.

In the case at hand, a group of individuals who claimed to have been harmed by the pornographic material filed a class-action lawsuit under FOSTA.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in the case last year that FOSTA only applies if the litigants can demonstrate that an internet company “knowingly benefited” from the sex trafficking as a result of its own conduct. The appeals court found that the allegations “suggest only that Reddit ‘turned a blind eye’ to the unlawful content posted on its platform, not that it actively participated in sex trafficking.”

The petitioners and their children said they “became victims of sex trafficking” through the Reddit website, in a petition (pdf) filed with the Supreme Court on Jan. 23

“Far from serving as a neutral bulletin board for third-party content, Reddit creates a thriving platform for child pornography and sex trafficking. Petitioners brought claims against Reddit arising out of Reddit’s operations, including Reddit’s knowing receipt and distribution of child pornography depicting these minors; its refusal to ban repeat offenders who traffic in child pornography; and its practice of allowing traffickers themselves to moderate website pages containing child pornography,” according to the petition.

“Child pornography is the root cause of much of the sex trafficking that occurs in the world today, and it is primarily traded on the internet, through websites that claim immunity from suit under the Communications Decency Act,” stated the document.

“Reddit creates a thriving platform for child pornography and sex trafficking.”

“The Ninth Circuit’s ruling, if it stands, would immunize a huge class of violators who play a role in the victimization of children,” the petition said.

Reddit, which has said it tries to prevent the posting of child pornography, argued that the 9th Circuit ruled correctly.

FOSTA was enacted to strike a balance between “protecting minors from sex trafficking and preserving the core protections of section 230,” Reddit argued in a brief filed Feb. 22.

FOSTA lifts the protections of Section 230 but “only if the plaintiff can plead and prove that the defendant committed a criminal sex-trafficking violation—including by acting with knowledge that the victim would be trafficked.”

According to the brief, the petitioners argued Section 230 protections should be lifted when it can be proven that the defendants should have known that the victims would be trafficked, “so long as third-party traffickers (rather than the civil defendant) acted with” criminal intent.

The 9th Circuit “correctly rejected that theory, holding that a plaintiff invoking FOSTA’s exception to section 230 must plead and prove that the defendant knowingly facilitated  sex trafficking.”

The Epoch Times reached out for comment to the petitioners’ counsel, Steven Sklaver of Susman Godfrey in Los Angeles but had not received a reply as of press time.

The Epoch Times also asked Reddit’s attorney, Theane Kapur of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher in Los Angeles but had not received a reply as of press time.

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