Social Media and Product Liability

The Internet has revolutionized global connectivity, enabling individuals worldwide to connect, share ideas, and engage in advocacy efforts without significant resources or specialized technical skills. This remarkable ability to communicate online, whether through blogs, social media platforms, or educational and cultural platforms like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive, is not a mere coincidence. It stems from the recognition by Congress that in order for user-generated speech to flourish on the Internet, it is crucial to safeguard the services that empower and facilitate such expression.

However, while securing free speech is important, it is critical that proper protection is taken in order to safeguard users, especially children, from harmful content. Revelations brought forward by whistleblower Frances Haugen and a series of studies have triggered a wave of class actions and lawsuits against social media companies. These lawsuits aim to hold these companies accountable for the alleged harms caused to children, particularly teenage girls, by their platforms’ algorithms. The disclosed internal documents suggest that social media platforms were aware of the potential harm to mental health, including issues related to body image, caused by their platforms.

What is Section 230?

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects the freedom of expression on the internet and shields online intermediaries from liability for the speech of others. It recognizes that individuals should be responsible for their own actions and statements online, while platforms and services should not be held accountable for the content generated by users. The law promotes user speech by preventing most civil suits against users or services based on third-party content.

Section 230’s protections are not absolute and do not cover companies that violate federal criminal law, create illegal or harmful content, or infringe on intellectual property rights. For over 25 years, Section 230 has played a vital role in safeguarding the free and open internet. It has been instrumental in protecting small blogs, big platforms, and individual users from lawsuits related to forwarding email, hosting online reviews, or sharing objectionable content.

What are the issues with Section 230?

While Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides crucial protections to social media platforms by shielding them from liability for user-generated content, it does not address the issue of negligent design and the potential role of these platforms in fostering illicit and dangerous content on the internet.

Section 230 primarily focuses on establishing a legal framework that encourages the free flow of user speech by limiting the liability of platforms for the actions and statements of their users. However, critics argue that it fails to adequately address the responsibility of social media companies in designing and maintaining their platforms in a way that prevents the proliferation of harmful or illegal content.

There is growing concern that social media platforms, while not directly responsible for the content posted by users, may have a level of accountability when it comes to their platform design choices and policies. Negligent design refers to situations where the design or functionality of a platform contributes to the facilitation or amplification of illicit and dangerous content, such as hate speech, disinformation, harassment, or illegal activities.

Critics argue that social media companies should be more proactive in implementing robust moderation mechanisms, content policies, and algorithmic systems to prevent the spread of harmful content. Negligent design claims suggest that platforms have a duty to consider the potential risks associated with their design choices and take reasonable measures to mitigate those risks.

Can I file a product liability claim against a social media company?

Product liability lawsuits have traditionally been employed to seek justice and hold manufacturers accountable for injuries caused by defective products. However, the application of product liability laws in the context of social media websites is an evolving area of legal exploration. While social media platforms may not fit the traditional definition of a physical product, there are growing discussions around the possibility of using product liability theories to address the harm caused by these platforms.

Product liability lawsuits generally require demonstrating that a product was defective and that the defect caused the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. In the case of social media companies, the concept of a “defective product” may be expanded to include design flaws, algorithmic biases, inadequate content moderation, or the failure to implement sufficient safety measures on their websites. These factors can contribute to the proliferation of harmful content, including misinformation, hate speech, cyberbullying, or other forms of online harm.

To pursue a product liability claim against a social media company, it would be necessary to establish a causal link between the platform’s online design or policies and the harm suffered by the plaintiff. This could involve demonstrating that the platform’s intentional or negligent actions created an environment that facilitated the harm or failed to provide adequate protections for users.

Finding justice through product liability lawsuits against social media websites may provide an avenue to hold these platforms accountable for the harm caused by their design choices, policies, or implementation failures. However, it’s important to recognize that this area of law is still evolving, and legal challenges may arise in applying traditional product liability principles to digital platforms. Discussions around the limitations of Section 230 and the need for regulatory reforms aim to address these concerns and hold social media platforms accountable for their role in nurturing illicit and dangerous content on the internet.

The Boston attorneys at Breakstone, White & Gluck are invested in this growing and developing form of holding social media websites accountable for certain damage and harm caused to children, particularly teenage girls, by their platforms’ algorithms. If social media platforms are aware of the potential harm to mental health, including issues related to body image, caused by their platforms, then they need to be held liable so that families and individuals may receive restitution.

If you have been injured or suffered a loss as a result of a defective product, the skilled product liability lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck are here to assist you. We have extensive experience in investigating injuries caused by defective products, including toys and vehicles. Our dedicated team is committed to providing compassionate representation to each client we serve. We understand the importance of acting promptly to protect your rights if you believe you have a case. To arrange a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable Massachusetts lawyers, please call our office in Boston at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or complete our contact form.