The Ninth Circuit's recent holding in Lemmon v. Snap, Inc., No. 20-55295 (9th Cir. May 4, 2021), raises questions about the scope of immunity afforded to internet companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 provides that "[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1). Put simply, internet companies are not liable for third-party content published on their platforms.

In Lemmon, the surviving parents of two teenage boys who died in a high-speed car accident sued Snap, Inc. for the negligent design of its Snapchat mobile application. Shortly before the accident, the boys were traveling at speeds up to 123 mph while using Snapchat's "Speed Filter," which enables Snapchat users to "record their real-life speed." According to the complaint, many Snapchat users believe they will earn an award through Snapchat's reward system for using the Speed Filter to record a video or picture while traveling at 100 mph or faster. The plaintiffs thus alleged that Snap knew or should have known that the Speed Filter, combined with Snapchat's reward system, incentivized young drivers to drive at dangerous speeds.

Relying on Section 230, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims. The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the case, however, finding that Section 230 did not apply because the plaintiffs sought to hold Snap liable for the design of the Snapchat app itself, rather than for third-party content.

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