Omegle Needs Accountability for Facilitating the Exploitation of Children

M.H. v. Omegle.com LLC, a suit brought against Omegle on behalf of a minor, was recently dismissed by the U.S. District Court.

Knowing all we do about how online platforms are often much more culpable than they are willing to account for, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) Law Center, along with allies—the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators, United Abolitionists, Paving the Way Foundation, Justice Restoration Center, and the Haba Law Firm—filed a joint Amicus Brief on behalf of the minor plaintiff. The Amicus Brief asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to reverse the U.S. District Court’s dismissal of the case.

Survivors of abuse and exploitation—even via internet and social media platforms such as Omegle—deserve justice under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).

How Omegle Works and Facilitates Exploitation

Omegle is a free online chat website visited by millions of people daily, and it is best known for pairing strangers randomly to video chat one-on-one in a private session. These anonymous chat sessions have no screening or age verification process in place, making them a virtual playground for sexual predators who trick children into committing sexual acts over live web feeds while simultaneously recording them.

Omegle’s Claims of CDA 230 “Immunity” are False

Omegle and other web platforms claim to have broad immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230) even when they knowingly facilitate the connection of sexual predators to children. However, a plain language reading of CDA 230 and its FOSTA amendment shows that Congress intended to both prevent the exploitation of children online as well as deter and punish the bad actors that participate in child exploitation and harm. 

The minor plaintiff’s case deserves to be re-adjudicated under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which serves to protect victims of sex trafficking and exploitation.

The Story of C.H. on Omegle Represents the Experiences of So Many Other Children

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, an 11-year-old girl we’ll call C.H, went on Omegle for the first time and things started innocently as she was placed in a chatroom with other minors. But when the session ended, things took a much darker turn.  

When she entered the next chatroom, she was greeted with a black screen that began displaying text from an anonymous user—“John Doe”—who told C.H. he knew her. He provided specific details about where she lived and threatened to hack her devices—and her family’s devices—unless she immediately took off her clothes. Her tearful pleadings to Doe about not undressing fell upon deaf ears and she finally gave in to his request. 

Devastated, C.H. quickly told her parents who contacted law enforcement and brought a lawsuit against Omegle. But no lawsuit could repair the emotional damage to C.H. as she was left with scars she might carry the rest of her life.

Tragically, this is not the first story of abuse on Omegle. In early 2022, a man was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison for sexually exploiting children—including receiving child sexual abuse material (CSAM) from young boys via Omegle. Not long before that ruling, another man received five years for soliciting and live-streaming child sexual abuse material (CSAM) over Omegle. 

Clearly, Omegle has a systemic issue.

The NCOSE Law Center and Allies Step In to Help

The NCOSE Law Center worked with our ally, Marsh Law Firm PLLC, to secure justice by filing amicus briefs in support of C.H. and her parents. Despite the fact that Omegle randomly pairs users like C.H. in one-on-one anonymous chat sessions and has no screening or age verification process in place—making it a virtual playground for sexual predators who trick children into committing sexual acts over live web feeds while often simultaneously recording them—a federal judge dismissed the case.

Can Internet-based Platforms Be Held Accountable Under the Law?

Omegle and other web platforms are asking the courts to interpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to give them broad immunity, even when they knowingly facilitate the connection of sexual predators to children. 

Lawsuits like the one filed by C.H. and her family are proceeding across the country, and the NCOSE Law Center is working hard to support survivors of exploitation with effective legal representation. 

In the struggle for justice for survivors, the world of public policy is equally important. It is for children like C.H. and their families that NCOSE and our allies strongly support the EARN IT Act which, as of April 2022, is pending before Congress. It clarifies that Congress never intended Omegle, and many other sites like it, to get off scot-free with regard to facilitating child sexual abuse.

Big Tech Must Step Up to Protect Children Online

Companies like Omegle, Meta, Tik Tok, and Instagram have billions of dollars at their disposal to litigate cases nationwide and to hire lobbyists in Washington D.C. to stop the EARN IT Act and other efforts to protect children. When they should be working to protect users and children in particular, Big Tech is instead doing everything it can to avoid accountability for its dangerous products.

The internet must be a safe place for learning rather than a dangerous, predatory zone of lawlessness. The days of Omegle and others turning a blind eye to online child sexual abuse must, can, and will come to an end.

Not only should the court review the case’s dismissal and seek true justice for C.H. but Congress should also pass the EARN IT Act.

Take Action to Protect Children Online by Contacting Congress About the EARN IT Act

The Numbers

300+

NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

93

NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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