Are Tech Companies Responsible for Harassment on their Platforms?

Ibrahim.ID [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So far the answer to that question is — No. According to a 1996 law that was originally passed to protect free speech, companies are not liable for speech on their online platforms — including harassment.

After repeated harassment and a restraining order against the dating app Grindr, one man is trying to change that. Matthew Herrick’s ex repeatedly created fake profiles of Herrick, sending men to his workplace and home expecting to hookup. The harassment continued even though the ex was not following Grindr’s terms of service, and Herrick got a restraining order against Grindr in which they were to take down all the fake accounts.  In 2017, Herrick filed a lawsuit against Grindr.

Grindr and other tech groups and companies are relying on the 1996 law to say they are not responsible for third party speech on their platforms.  Herrick’s attorney has turned towards product liability laws — saying Grindr is dangerous and built specifically to allow such harassment.

So, is Grindr responsible for the repeated harassment? Or do apps not harass people, people harass people?  Or is it something in between: should a person have legal recourse if a company doesn’t stick to its TOS?

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