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Teens suing Facebook Inc. (FB.O) for profiting from data used to sell them into sex slavery defeated the company’s first attempt to have the cases dismissed in a Texas state court.
A judge in Houston on Thursday denied requests to throw out the pair of lawsuits targeting Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram. The teens, who aren’t named, claim the company didn’t do enough to save them from being trafficked after meeting sex predators on their platforms.
The two Jane Does argue Facebook profits from data collected by algorithms that promote interactions between users, including those between minors and sexual predators.
The decision may be the first in the country to allow individuals to sue companies for the behavior of third parties on their web platforms after Congress carved out an exemption to the Communications Decency Act for sex trafficking in 2018.
The Does in this case argue they’re not seeking to impose liabilities for third-party content on Facebook’s platforms, but instead for the company’s failure to warn victims while benefiting from sex trade, according to court filings.
Facebook says in filings that despite the new law, it remains immune because third-party communications led to the teens’ victimization, not the platform itself. The company declined to comment on the litigation, but said it does not endorse sex trafficking.
“Human trafficking is abhorrent and is not allowed on Facebook," according to a written statement attributed to a `Facebook Spokesperson.’''
``We use technology to thwart this kind of abuse and we encourage people to use the reporting links found across our site so that our team of experts can review the content swiftly,'' the company said. "Facebook also works closely with anti-trafficking organizations and other technology companies, and we report all apparent instances of child sexual exploitation to NCMEC.”
The victims include a Houston woman who said in her complaint in October that the company’s “morally bankrupt corporate culture” exposed her to an online pimp who drew her into a child sex-trafficking ring. The other is a 14-year-old girl who says she was groomed and sold in 2018 by a man she met on the social media site. He allegedly abused her, then trafficked her for three weeks.
The judge’s decision to deny the motion to dismiss can’t be appealed in Texas state court. The cases will now proceed to the next level.
“This motion is one of several procedural preliminary hurdles that the parties advise will be filed and argued in these cases prior to full litigation,” Judge Steven Kirkland wrote.