Omegle case: Section 230 of Communications Decency Act

Section 230 says that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider" (47 U.S.C. § 230).

In 2018 sex trafficking was carved out of the legislation, removing the liability immunity for platforms that promoted sex trafficking and prostitution, largely because of the role that platforms like Backpage played in sexual exploitation of minors. The legislation, like FOSTA/SESTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act—the House version—and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act—the Senate version) has been controversial because it has seldom been used to prosecute offenders and has been criticized by sex workers as having removed a legitimate forum for communication. Nonetheless it has helped to stop online advertising related to child sex trafficking.

Omegle is an online platform that allows people to meet and talk to total strangers online through video links. Participants are randomly paired but there is also a form of self-selection by indicating shared interests. Once people are paired, they can stay and chat or move to another partner.

In A.M v Omegle case, in 2014 an 11-year-old girl, sued the platform for randomly pairing with a man in his late thirties who went on to sexually abuse her online for several years. The perpetrator, a Canadian resident, has been convicted by a Canadian court in a criminal prosecution. However, the plaintiff alleges that Omegle is also responsible for the outcome, based on product liability arising from defects in design, defects in warning, negligence in design, negligence in warning and instruction, facilitation of sex trafficking, sex trafficking of children, human trafficking, and negligent misrepresentation. Judge Michael Mosman pointed out that, unlike many Section 230 cases, this case is more about the design of the website which could have more best designed in a way that it could have avoided the match with adults and minors.

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