MSU Law Professor’s Scholarship Cited in Court of Appeals Decision

MSU Law Professor Adam Candeub’s law review article, Reading Section 230 as Written, was cited in a dissent to a closely divided en banc panel opinion of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The highly watched case concerned Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act. According to Professor Candeub, this provision protects internet firms from liability for their users’ posts—and, thus, plays a central role in the business models of the major internet platforms such as Google and Facebook.

The case involved a minor plaintiff who was sexually abused by his high school teacher when he was 15 years old. His teacher used Snapchat to send him sexually explicit material. The minor plaintiff sought to hold Snap, Inc. (the company that owns Snapchat) accountable for its alleged encouragement of that abuse.

The question the case presented was whether Section 230 barred liability from Snap’s alleged encouragement and facilitation of the sexual abuse. By an 8-7 vote, the panel majority said “yes.” The dissent disagreed, arguing that the majority was wrongly “[b]ound by our circuit’s atextual interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.” It strongly suggested that the Supreme Court should take certiorari to resolve the interpretation of Section 230.

The dissent opined that “The en banc court, by a margin of one, voted against revisiting our erroneous interpretation of Section 230, leaving in place sweeping immunity for social media companies that the text cannot possibly bear.” Read the complete published order and Professor Candeub’s article.