Sex Trafficking Lawsuit Against Twitter Continues on Appeal

Key Support from NCMEC, Renowned Tech Experts, Other Anti-Exploitation Orgs Given to Ninth Circuit Court

Last week, several prominent child-protection and anti-exploitation organizations, and two renowned academic researchers filed amicus briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit supporting two childhood sexual-abuse survivors in their lawsuit against Twitter.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Professor Hany Farid, Professor Brian Levine, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P), RAINN, and Child USA filed Amicus Briefs in the lawsuit, John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 v. Twitter, Inc.

The Plaintiffs — who are represented by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center (NCOSE), The Haba Law Firm, and The Matiasic Firm — sued Twitter for refusing to remove, and knowingly benefiting from, child sexual abuse material depicting them.

Peter Gentala, senior legal counsel for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center, explained the significance of these briefs. “These amicus briefs persuasively argue that these two courageous survivors should have the opportunity to seek justice for Twitter’s role in their exploitation. The briefs also demonstrate how much tech platforms can be doing to prevent child sexual abuse material but are refusing to do at the expense of children,” he said.

Lisa Haba, partner at The Haba Law Firm, said, “We are grateful to NCMEC, Professors Hany Farid and Brian Levine, C3P, RAINN, and Child USA for supporting John Doe #1 and John Doe #2. Their voices are crucial for these survivors and for the many thousands of children who have been harmed by the toxic combination of online predators and social media platforms.”

The following are excerpts from the amicus briefs (along with a link to each brief):

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) (brief link):

  • “Due to NCMEC’s deep institutional knowledge about internet-facilitated sex trafficking crimes as well as its active participation in the hearings and debates leading to the passage of FOSTA, NCMEC is especially well-suited to aid the Court in its consideration of the issues presented in this appeal.” (pg. 9)
  • “Each year such reports, including sextortion, have risen dramatically, from 19,588 in 2016 to 67,136 in 2021. Between 2019 and 2021 alone, the number of suspected child sextortion crimes more than doubled.” (pg. 13)
  • “But Plaintiffs do not allege just that Twitter failed to act quickly enough in removing the videos. It is unlikely that NCMEC would take a position on litigation under the TVPRA that sought solely to capitalize on the good faith errors or oversights of online intermediaries. Plaintiffs allege that Twitter, after being informed they were “baited, harassed, and threatened” into making CSAM and that plaintiffs were afraid the videos were “being resurfaced,” refused to take action either to remove the content or block the accounts posting it. Moreover, plaintiffs’ allegations plausibly establish Twitter had actual knowledge its platform was being used by the perpetrator of plaintiffs’ sex trafficking crime to carry out threats that would complete the crime.” (pg. 35-36)

Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P), Professor Hany Farid, Professor Brian Levine (brief link):

  • “Online harms against children are not inevitable “necessary evils” that should be tolerated or ignored given the necessity of online freedom.” (pg. 10)
  • “Broad immunity for platforms that take minimal efforts to mitigate unlawful behavior—or, worse, that purposefully blind themselves to illegal conduct occurring on the online spaces they create—is not consistent with the purpose of the CDA and FOSTA.” (pg. 13-14)
  • “When technology companies facilitate CSAM circulation, or fail to robustly act when it is brought to their attention, the invalidating message survivors hear about their original abuse is echoed by “the system” that continues to fail them. The Court has a chance here to act.” (pg. 14)
  • “Through lethargy, inaction, or even tacit acceptance, Twitter has permitted itself to become a home for CSAM—despite the existence of tools amici have created which allow tech companies to ban this material. The tools are free.” (pg. 16)
  • “The damages the Plaintiffs have suffered because of Twitter are tragic and extensive. The social costs of idly watching children experience permanent and great injury due to online abuse, while multibillion-dollar online platforms continue to benefit is immeasurable. Surely, Congress did not intend to treat children as disposable commodities. Amici respectfully request that this court uphold the district court’s decision permitting Plaintiffs’ TVPRA claim on beneficiary liability and hold that the claim falls within the exemption to Section 230 immunity created by FOSTA.” (pg. 24)

RAINN and Child USA (brief link):

  • “Allowing Twitter to advertise, distribute, and possess child pornography with impunity is directly antagonistic to forty years of Supreme Court precedent. Id. CDA 230 does not give Twitter a free pass to cause grave “physiological, emotional, and mental” injuries to the Plaintiffs.” (pg. 8)

In the lawsuit filed in early 2021, the Plaintiffs, John Doe #1 and John Doe #2, allege that they were solicited and recruited for sex trafficking at the age of 13. Later, child sexual abuse material depicting them was disseminated on Twitter while they were still minors. Both plaintiffs were harmed by Twitter’s distribution of the material depicting their sexual abuse and trafficking, and by Twitter’s knowing refusal to remove the images of their sexual abuse (child pornography) when notified by John Doe #1 and his parents.

When Twitter was first alerted to harmful and illegal material and the ages of the children, Twitter refused to remove it and instead continued to promote and profit from the sexual abuse of the children. Twitter even reported back to one survivor that the video in question did not in fact violate any of its policies and would not be taken down. This refusal resulted in the child sexual abuse material accumulating over 167,000 views before direct involvement from a federal law enforcement officer finally induced Twitter to remove the child sex abuse material.

In August 2021, the Federal District Court ruled that the Plaintiffs’ claim against Twitter for knowingly benefiting from their sex trafficking should move forward. Twitter is appealing that ruling to the Ninth Circuit. The Plaintiffs cross-appealed and their opening brief can be found here.

The amicus briefs were made possible through the committed work of several law firms. “We additionally wish to thank The Marsh Law Firm, Levin Papantonio, DiCello Levitt Gutzler LLC, Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, PLLC, Hach, Rose Schirripa & Cheverie, LLP, Liberty Law Office, Inc, Pfau Conchran Vertetis Amala, PLLC, and Spertus, Landes & Umhoffer for their representation of these amici,” Ms. Haba said.

For more information about this lawsuit visit: https://sexualexploitationlawsuits.com/get-help/twitter/.

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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