SexSearch.com gets off on user's underage romp
Her profile said she was 18, your honor!
The judge rejected Doe's arguments that SexSearch was an information content provider because it reserved the right to revise profiles, pointing out that sites are only liable when they modify the specific information relating to a plaintiff's claims. Since the plaintiff here never argued that SexSearch modified Jane Roe's profile, the judge held that Section 230 applied to block the suit.
The decision completely ignored the recent Ninth Circuit Roommates.com opinion that stripped a roommate-search social network of its Section 230 immunity based on its practice of guiding roommate-seekers to certain profiles based on information provided during the registration process. The court ruled that this channeling created an additional layer of information that qualified the site as an information content provider.
That situation seems largely analogous to the current case, yet the court didn't give it a single mention. There could be a number of reasons for this: a) the plaintiff didn't bring it up in his arguments to the court; b) the decision isn't binding precedent on this district court, since it lies within the 6th Circuit; c) the judge, like nearly everyone else, thinks the 9th Circuit's decision was crap; or d) all of the above.
Instead of following the 9th Circuit down the rabbit hole, the judge's ruling more closely tracked the Doe v. Myspace decision out of Texas that exonerated the popular social network against claims of negligence following the sexual assault of a minor by a man she met through MySpace.
Not only did the courts both find that Section 230 applied, but they also found that it protected the sites against charges other than the usual claims of defamation - breach of contract and fraud for SexSearch, and negligence for MySpace.
The court here went even further for SexSearch, and also ruled that Doe's claims failed on the merits. That is, even without the Section 230 immunity, Doe hadn't stated a case that had any legal possibility of success.
While Doe may be out of luck, the ruling is good news for social sex networks and dating sites. But it may also turn out to be bad for the users of those services.
With no impetus for the sites to weed out age cheats, the possibility that more John Does out there could find themselves surrounded by cops one morning only increases.
Of course, as the judge here pointed out, Doe did have ample opportunity to verify Roe's age before having sex with her.
And considering that she was barely out of middle school and he was meeting her at her family home, that probably would have been wise.®