Jane Doe No. 1, et al., v. Backpage.com, LLC, et al.

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  • Human Trafficking
  • Child Abuse
  • Authored Amicus Brief
2016

The First Circuit held that Backpage was protected from liability for aiding the Petitioners’ sexual exploitation as minors, even though the Petitioners persuasively alleged that Backpage took an active role in shaping the content of the ads and deliberately tailored its website to “make sex trafficking easier.” 

Congress enacted the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) for the primary purpose of preventing children from viewing indecent or otherwise harmful material online. The legislators emphasized that its goal was “to help encourage the private sector to protect our children from being exposed to obscene and indecent material on the Internet” by removing liability for Internet companies that “make a good faith effort to edit the smut from their systems.” The First Circuit Court of Appeals—like several other courts—interpreted the law as providing complete immunity to websites that solicit and profit from illegal content so long as the legal claims against them bear some relationship to online content provided by a third party. Because Backpage’s “adult” services section contains advertisements written by paid users, the First Circuit held that the site was protected from liability for aiding the Petitioners’ sexual exploitation as minors, even though the Petitioners persuasively alleged that Backpage took an active role in shaping the content of the ads and deliberately tailored its website to “make sex trafficking easier.” This sweeping interpretation is not what Congress intended when it enacted legislation seeking to encourage website operators to behave responsibly.