Bloomberg Law: Twitter Faces Claim It Benefited From Child Sex Trafficking

Originally Published at Bloomberg Law

By Martina Barash

Two young men can proceed with a claim that Twitter Inc. benefited from sex trafficking involving them as teenagers when it published child pornography videos on its website, but they can’t pursue other claims, a federal court in California ruled.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act’s requirements for civil claims, including knowledge requirements, are less strict than those for criminal charges brought under the Act, Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero said Thursday for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, allowing the benefit claim.

The remainder of the claims fail, either because the plaintiffs alleged them inadequately or because they’re blocked by the Communications Decency Act, he said.

Their product liability claim is distinguishable from one that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently allowed in a case against app maker Snap Inc. over a “speed filter” that allegedly led to a fatal car crash, Spero said. Unlike the speed filter, “the nature of the alleged design flaw in this case—and the harm that is alleged to flow from that flaw—is directly related to the posting of third-party content on Twitter,” he said. The CDA bars the product liability claim, he said.

The plaintiffs, who are suing under the pseudonyms John Doe #1 and John Doe #2, allege they were solicited at age 13 for sex trafficking and manipulated into providing pornographic videos of themselves to the trafficker, according to the court. Later, while they were in high school, links to the videos allegedly appeared on Twitter.

Twitter allegedly refused to remove the tweets when first informed of them. The posts were allegedly viewed more than 167,000 times.

The facts don’t fit a claim for direct sex trafficking under a correct reading of the TVPRA’s language, according to Spero, who’s presiding over the case. But the Doe plaintiffs successfully stated a claim that Twitter benefited from participating in a venture involving them and should have known they were sex trafficking victims, he said.

Spero disagreed with the conclusion of a federal district court in Florida on the standards for such a claim, saying they’re not as stringent as criminal requirements.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, The Haba Law Firm PA, and the Matiasic Firm PC represent the plaintiffs. Cooley LLP represents Twitter.

The case is Doe v. Twitter, Inc., 2021 BL 313988, N.D. Cal., No. 21-cv-00485, 8/19/21.

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