Curtailing Online Service Provider Immunity from Liability: An Advocacy for the Entension of Roommates.com
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) was enacted following the controversial decision in Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Servs. Co., where an interactive computer service provider was held liable for a libelous message posted by a user on one of its financial message boards. The court determined that the service provider was a “publisher” of the libelous message for the purposes of state law because it had engaged in screening and moderating of other objectionable posts on its message boards but failed to remove the libelous message in question. Because the service provider voluntarily self-policed some of the user-generated content on its forum, the court held that the service provider assumed liability, in a manner akin to a newspaper publisher, for all messages on its bulletin board that defamed third parties. This Note discusses one of the most notable contemporary challenges to broad § 230 immunity: the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com, LLC. Part I provides an overview of the way that § 230 immunity has been applied in the absence of the Roommates.com holding. Part II summarizes the Roommates.com ruling and evaluates the approach taken by the Ninth Circuit in curtailing the broad application of § 230 immunity while still preserving the congressional intent. Part III addresses some of the most pressing challenges to the Roommates.com holding and considers alternatives that have been suggested by other advocates. Part IV then makes a case that the extension of the Roommates.com holding is the most effective means of achieving the congressional goals of § 230.