Texas Supreme Court rules Facebook can be sued for sex trafficking

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that federal law does not grant Facebook immunity against lawsuits for users who use its platform to lure minors into sex trafficking.

Three plaintiffs filed separate suits against Facebook alleging that they became victims of sex trafficking after meeting their abusers through Facebook or Instagram, which Facebook owns. In addition to several negligence claims, the plaintiffs asserted claims under a Texas statute that allows civil lawsuits “against those who intentionally or knowingly benefit from participation in a sex-trafficking venture.”

Facebook moved to dismiss all claims against it contending that they were barred by section 230 of the “Communications Decency Act,” which protects interactive computer service providers such as Facebook from being held liable for any information provided by its users.

However, the Texas Supreme Court denied Facebook’s motion saying that section 230 does not “create a lawless no-man’s-land on the Internet.” The court further explained that section 230 protects internet platforms from being held accountable for their users’ words or actions, but “[h]olding internet platforms accountable for their own misdeeds is quite another thing.” Thus, the court held that section 230 did not bar the plaintiffs’ statutory claims against Facebook.

All three plaintiffs were minors at the time they were lured into “a life of trafficking” after being groomed by Facebook or Instagram users. One plaintiff’s mother reported the Instagram sex-trafficking activities to Facebook, but Facebook did not respond.

Annie McAdams, who represented the plaintiffs, said, “My team is humbled by this order and for the opportunity to work for our clients. Our clients fought over two years for the right to even bring their case.”