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Web site not legally responsible for ads for underage prostitutes, judge rules

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against an escort classifieds site by three local women who said they were trafficked on the site as minors, saying the site is protected under a federal law that bars actions against online publishers for content created by third parties, in this case the people who take out ads on it.

Downtown law firm Ropes & Gray had filed suit on behalf of two women (later extended to a third woman) last fall. One said she had been hired out via backpage.com ads when she was just 15.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was among those who had filed amicus briefs in support of their case; the Electronic Frontier Foundation took the opposite side.

After discussing the legal issues involved, Judge Richard Stearns of US District Court in Boston wrote:

[T]he court is not unsympathetic to the tragic plight described by Jane Doe No. 1, Jane Doe No. 2, and Jane Doe No. 3. Nor does it regard the sexual trafficking of children as anything other than an abhorrent evil. Finally, the court is not naïve - I am fully aware that sex traffickers and other purveyors of illegal wares ranging from drugs to pornography exploit the vulnerabilities of the Internet as a marketing tool.

But he concluded:

Whether one agrees with its stated policy or not (a policy driven not simply by economic concerns, but also by technological and constitutional considerations), Congress has made the determination that the balance between suppression of trafficking and freedom of expression should be struck in favor of the latter in so far as the Internet is concerned. Putting aside the moral judgment that one might pass on Backpage’s business practices, this court has no choice but to adhere to the law that Congress has seen fit to enact.

Via Boston Business Journal.

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Comments

This is a disgusting subject, but the realities of web design and trying to turn a profit/pay for some bandwidth today are that you aren't in complete control over what appears on a website.

One of those situations where it is a great ruling with an unfortunate reality.

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I had a feeling I'd find a citation of this in the judge's opinion.

Often called just "CDA 230", this is a very important bit of federal law, one that allows sites such as Universal Hub to operate without constant fear that something *you or I* say here could cause a lawsuit against *Adam*.

Some of you may recall that I used this provision of law to get a lawsuit against me dismissed two years ago.

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Congress has made the determination that the balance between suppression of trafficking and freedom of expression should be struck in favor of the latter in so far as the Internet is concerned.

Wait, Congress actually once passed a law regarding the First Amendment that wasn't explicitly written to stomp on it?

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