Social media platform Snapchat has made waves recently as a California appeals court ruled it can indeed be held liable for driving injuries sustained by users as a result of its speed filter. The display option, which gives users the opportunity to attach a real-time miles-per-hour count to photos posted on the app, is listed as being partially to blame for a fatal car crash in which a group of young men was showing off how fast they were going before they ultimately met their demise.
Continue reading below for more on the case and what it means for Snapchat:
Before we get into the case, Snapchat originally had the lawsuit thrown out on grounds of violating Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), a law that was created to regulate content on the internet. In the years following its inception, however, the law has inadvertently provided a legal loophole that many tech companies have used to insulate themselves from being sued by users. The provision in question protects online platforms from liability in a variety of circumstances involving third-party use of their services, but today there are many stakeholders calling for amendments to be made that bring the law into the 21st century.
In particular, Section 230 protects online platforms from lawsuits over content posted by their users. Originally, a district court had dismissed the case against Snapchat citing the law, but after being appealed to a higher court, the case gained new momentum as the ruling was reversed.
The case, known as Lemmon v. Snap, asserts that Snapchat was a direct contributor to the death of three boys, aged 17-20, who were using the filter while driving at excessive speeds. The tragedy occurred after the soon-to-be deceased were recorded posting images on the app of them hitting speeds as high as 123 mph. The suit claims that the “reward system” within the app was the main factor in their deaths, as Snapchat was encouraging its users to reach speeds of 100mph or higher at the time.
Furthermore, it cites a 2008 ruling against Roommates.com, which stated Section 230 didn’t apply when the site guided users to answer potentially discriminatory questions like racial preferences, even in situations when the users were the ones who supplied the answers. The appeals court agreed with the plaintiffs’ comparison to that of the Roomates.com case, and has now opened the door for the lawsuit to move forward.
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