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Snapchat Immune to Lawsuit per Communications Decency Act

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Spalding County State Court Judge Josh Thacker has dismissed a lawsuit claiming Snapchat’s speed filter tempted 18-year-old Christal McGee to accelerate to 113 mph before crashing into another car. According to the judge, Communications Decency Act (CDA) provides the social media company with immunity.

CDA and Snapchat

McGee posted to Snapchat from the stretcher after the crash.

McGee and her three passengers sustained only minor injuries from the crash, while the plaintiff suffered traumatic brain injuries and spent five weeks in the ICU. He filed a lawsuit against McGee in Spalding County State Court last April. Though the judge’s action gives Snapchat immunity, claims against McGee are still pending.

Judge Thacker found the plaintiff’s claims against Snapchat were barred by the immunity clause of the CDA that says, “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.”

The CDA, which was enacted by Congress in 1996, was a response to concerns about minors’ access to pornography on the Internet. In Section 230 the CDA:

“… created a federal immunity to any cause of action that would make ISPs liable for information originating with a third-party user of the service…. Although it protects online forums and ISPs from most federal causes of action, it does not exempt providers from applicable state laws or criminal, communications-privacy, or intellectual-property claims.”

The judge questioned whether Snapchat had a legal duty to remove or restrict the filter because the victim’s injury was predictable, given that other users are alleged to have had wrecks while using the speed filter.

When the lawsuit was filed, End Distracted Driving (EndDD.org) Founder Joel Feldman wrote, “So is it fair to hold Snapchat legally liable for the alleged incredibly stupid and reckless behavior of Ms. McGee? Isn’t it the responsibility of the driver to make safe driving decisions?”

In the article for Huffington Post, Feldman continued, “What about Snapchat’s moral responsibility? And by that I mean what should and can Snapchat do today to prevent future tragedies regardless of its technical legal responsibility in this specific case?”

Granting Snapchat immunity poses numerous important questions about the legal and moral responsibility of not only the company, but also its users.

Furthermore, the immunity granted to web applications and companies was in the spirit of the posting of pornography. If companies put features on their applications, and they know their users will be enticed or encouraged to put themselves and others into a “zone of danger,” as David Ball teaches, should the federal law providing the immunity be amended? I think yes.

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