Someone else who doesn't understand Section 230 of the CDA is suing search engines for "refusing" to delist revenge porn. The short complaint -- filed in New York and spotted by Eric Goldman -- is signed by an actual lawyer, but the complaint is so devoid of legitimate (or any) legal arguments, it could be mistaken for a pro se attempt.

According to the complaint, a number of sexually explicit videos were posted to porn websites after a relationship went bad. The plaintiff contacted the websites and had the videos removed, which would seem to have solved the problem. But it didn't. According to the plaintiff, Yahoo, Bing, and Google searches for her name still bring up websites containing the explicit videos. Here's the wording used in the complaint [PDF]:

5. That Plaintiff contacted Defendants, Google, Yahoo, and Bing to remove the name ANGELE BRILIHON BOLOU ABODO from Defendants' web search engine.

6. That the search Plaintiff's full name on Defendants' website led and still leads to pornographic videos of the Plaintiff, and other derogatory comments aimed at the Plaintiff and containing Plaintiff's full name.

A search for her name does pull up everything she complains of. According to Abodo, these search results have prevented her from getting a job and have tarnished her reputation.

GmYuI2T woman - AOFIRS

However, her complaint demands the removal of her name from search engines, which is an impossibility. She obviously wants the search results for her name removed, but hasn't actually asked for that in her complaint.

This filing will be sent back for amending as soon as a judge reads it, but applying some fixes to that particular language won't turn this into a winnable case. Her other efforts -- contacting websites to have the videos removed -- is something she's had some success with. It won't work with every site and there's almost no chance the "derogatory comments" scattered around the web will be removed, no matter how much she petitions these websites. But that's going to be far more productive than this litigation will be.

Section 230 gives the sites immunity for users' comments. It's also the reason targeting search engines isn't likely to result in delistings. Search engines return search results. They're in no way responsible for the content contained in the search results.

This is the easiest route -- far easier than tracking down those making the comments or posting the videos -- but it has about the same chances for success. Even with the damage being done to Section 230 by courts recently, it's going to take far more than this bare-bones pleading to even begin to mount a successful legal battle over unflattering search engine results.

But this short filing does lie at the crux of an issue where Section 230 is likely to receive the most collateral damage: revenge porn. Legislative efforts have been made in many states and, with almost no exceptions, the efforts include language that undermines the protections of Section 230 by attempting to shift some degree of culpability to service providers. The same sort of damage could result from a precedential ruling in a federal court if any revenge porn-based case makes it that far.

The underlying activity is horrendous and does a significant amount of damage to victims, but shifting the responsibility anywhere but the person posting the content poses the risk of opening up service providers to criminal charges and/or civil litigation -- something that would do tremendous harm to openness and freedom of the internet.

This isn't the case that's going to start that ball rolling, however. The actual perpetrators aren't listed as defendants, which means this is nothing more than a low-cost Hail Mary by Abodo and her legal rep.

Author: Tim Cushing

Published in Search Engine


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