CDA s230 Protects Craigslist

Last Friday the Seventh Circuit applied Section 230 of the Communications Decency Acto to uphold a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Craigslist on claims that it violated Section 804(a) the Fair Housing Act. The Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights argued that Craigslist caused discriminatory ads that violated the Act by maintaining an electronic bulletin board on which they appear. Writing for the panel Chief Justice Easterbrook rejected the claim that there is a meaningful causal relationship between Craigslist and any discriminatory ads: “Doubtless craigslist plays a causal role in the sense that no one could post a discriminatory ad if craigslist did not offer a forum. That is not, however, a useful definition of cause. One might as well say that people who save money “cause” bank robbery, because if there were no banks there could be no bank robberies. An interactive computer service “causes” postings only in the sense of providing a place where people can post.”

The court stated that Section 230(c)(2) cannot be understood to create general immunity from civil liability for websites and other hosts of online content. Craigslist’s role as a passive intermediary is central to its reasoning. The court states that “§230(c)(1) says is that an online information system must not “be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by” someone else. Yet only in a capacity as publisher could craigslist be liable under §3604(c). It is not the author of the ads and could not be treated as the “speaker” of the posters’ words, given §230(a)(1).”

The court reaches its decision without referring to the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Fair Housing Councils v The Ninth Circuit held that met Section 230’s definition of information content provider by limiting its users’ responses to choices available in drop-down menus and by collating and selecting user-provided information in emailed newsletters. Craigslist, on the other hand, provided a forum for user-created ads without shaping their content.

11 Replies to “CDA s230 Protects Craigslist”

  1. Wallace

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  3. Felix Thea

    I believe a service should be liable when it provides the forum/medium to conduct unlawful behavior especially since its a large and popular site like Craigslist. Because its a large and popular site, it has the ability to affect and influence the public; therefore, it should be more responsible. I am sure that there are measures that Craigslist and other similar sites can take to prevent discrimination. For example, do not have open fields for users to type whatever they want, instead, have options that they can choose from a drop down menu.

    I also believe that Craigslist should be concerned about the level of fraud that could occur on their site. To prevent this, they can adopt an eBay method where users must keep the same user name and information and then be rated by other users. Over a year ago, a shoe collector sold $5,000 worth of sneakers over the internet and right after the sale, was robbed and killed and it took the police some time to find the murderer. This, discrimination, and fraud can all be controlled and hopefully prevented if Craigslist had a much more formal way of conducting business that required verification of personal information.

  4. Hannah

    I agree with Alex, but I think it is more than just the host site that should monitor the content of their site. For example, anyone using the bumper sticker application on Facebook has the ability to check a box that says “this sticker is offensive.” Measures like this that invite other users to help monitor posted material is a really smart idea and will help large sites locate more material that should or should not be posted.

  5. Alex

    howe- I understand that the law is to protect the service providers from liability, but I don’t like the fact that huge websites can pass any liability because they did not create it. I think it’s the service providers or websites responsibility to monitor their site and delete discriminatory ads…and if they can’t do that, then yes I think they should be liable.

  6. Howe Lin

    I don’t agree that the internet will “continue to allow everything to be published there with no liability and responsibility.” The court’s ruling does not condone the discriminatory ads. s230 only protects service providers from liability. It does not protect individual violators from accountability. The purpose of s230 is to allow internet hosts to edit possibly unlawful material. Without s230, then the internet would be open to even more unwanted material.

  7. Alex

    I agree with this decision made by the court- but I think it only works in context of craigslist. Craigslist is unique for websites in that its pretty much entirely user-generated. OF course craigslist should be liable as the publisher in this situation. But most other websites that deal with sales and listings have a format that you must fit. If the format is made in a way that had, then the website should be liable because they are affecting the content.

    But really, where do we draw the line with craigslist? If we continue to allow everything to be published there with no liability and responsibility it is going to become the pits of the internet, which it already is becoming. Drug sales, prostitution and now this…there has to be some point where they become liable.

  8. John MacKinnon

    I agree with the decision made here by the court, and feel that Craigslist differs in many ways from the case. In regards to the protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material, I believe that Craigslist does indeed take voluntary action to restrict access to the availability of offensive material through their flagging system. As Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist, states in his summary about the case: “Discriminatory postings are exceedingly uncommon, and those few that do reach the site are typically removed quickly by our users through the flagging system that accompanies each ad.” Therefore, its clear that Craigslist has a system in place to rid the website of offensive content, whereas with, they actually provoked the offensive material by providing the drop-box menus with answer choices and additional comments sections.

  9. Ace Jenkins

    I suppose I am not as familiar with Craigslist as others, but it seems to be very much a forum-type website. Most, if not all of the content is provided by the users. There does not even seem to be a database to segregate the users information with the exception of search engine functions. I agree with the Court’s decision on this case.

  10. Geetika

    Since Craigslist cannot be considered a publisher of information provided by third parties according to 230(c)(1)and it is merely a forum that allows people to make information available to others in the way that they want, without editing it, I agree with the court’s ruling. It is not the forum, but the users who might come across as discriminatory due to the language they use and how they phrase their ads. Also, it depends on how readers interpret these ads.For reader A a word/phrase might equate to being discriminatory while to reader B it might not seem discriminatory and to the author it might be just daily jargon.

  11. Karim Saab

    I remember the discussion about this and how it was an issue for because there were scroll down menus for race preference. I think that the ruling in favor of craigslist can be justified because it, like the article says, does not shape its content. One thing craigslist does do is categorize its ads. Cant this be considered a form of shaping content?

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