UPDATE: In late October 2016, the parties notified the court that they were in discussions to settle the matter and would jointly stipulate to a dismissal of the action without prejudice. On November 2nd, the court dismissed the action.
Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, also known as the “Communications Decency Act of 1996” or “CDA” was signed into law in February 1996. The goal of the CDA was to control the exposure of minors to indecent material, but the law’s passage provoked legal challenges and pertinent sections of the Act were subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional limitations on free speech. Yet, one section of the CDA, §230, remained intact and has proven to encourage the growth of web-based, interactive services.
Over the last few years, website operators, search engines and other interactive services have enjoyed a relative stable period of CDA immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) from liability associated with user-generated content. Despite a few outliers, Section 230 has been generally interpreted by most courts to protect website operators and other “interactive computer services” against claims arising out of third-party content.
However, a recent dispute involving a Snapchat feature known as “Discover” raises new questions under the CDA. The feature showcases certain interactive “channels” from selected partners who curate content daily. Last month, a parent of a 14-year old filed a putative class action against Snapchat claiming that her son was exposed to inappropriately racy content, particularly since, as plaintiff alleges, Snapchat does not tailor its feeds for adult and younger users. (Doe v. Snapchat, Inc., No. 16-04955 (C.D. Cal. filed July 7, 2016)). The complaint asserts that while Snapchat’s terms of service prohibit users under 13 from signing up for the service, it does not include any warnings about any possible “offensive” content on Snapchat for those under 18, beyond stating some “Community Guidelines” about what types of material users should not post in “Stories” or “Snaps.”