The Herrick v. Grindr case [um] ground to a halt on October 7th, as the Supreme Court refused to grant cert. The lawsuit — and its attempt to undermine Section 230 immunity — is dead, relegated to the pile of also-rans which have attempted to get a US court to rewrite this very important section of the Communications Decency Act.
Not that there was anything decent in the events leading up to the lawsuit. Matthew Herrick’s ex-boyfriend used Herrick’s information to create a fake Grindr profile and sent more than 1,200 men to Herrick’s home and workplace over the next several months. Herrick sued Grindr, alleging that the company failed to prevent his ex from abusing the service to harass him.
The case was tossed on appeal, with the Second Circuit Court finding in favor of Grindr and its invocation of its Section 230 immunity. The party at fault here was Herrick’s ex-boyfriend, but it was Grindr Herrick chose to take to court. The case was not argued well. The allegations contained suppositions that were pretty much impossible to reconcile, as Cathy Gellis pointed out in her post on the lawsuit. Herrick tried to dodge Section 230 immunity by claiming Grindr either handed out his geolocation info or some sort of bug left it exposed. This was the basis for his negligence claims. But none of that makes sense.
For it to be true Grindr would need to not only still be tracking him (even as an ex-user) but then, for some unknown reason, somehow unite the location data of the actual Herrick person with the fake Herrick profile. Herrick tried to argue that the first part was likely, citing for instance Google’s location services continuing to track users after they’d thought it had stopped. But even if it were true that Grindr had continued to track him, it would be really random to associate that data with any other account he didn’t control. From Grindr’s point of view, his real account and the fake account would look like two completely separate users. Sure, Grindr could have a bug that mis-associated location data, but there’s no reason for it to pick these two completely different accounts to merge the data from. It would be just as arbitrary as if it mixed up his data with any other Grindr account.
The most likely reason strange men kept showing up at Herrick’s home and place of business was because his ex-boyfriend knew these locations and could send that info to Grindr users. That meant a third party was supplying the information that resulted in Herrick’s harassment, not Grindr itself.
The denial of Supreme Court cert was tweeted by Section 230 legal scholar/law prof Eric Goldman. As readers of Techdirt are aware, there’s seldom a Section 230 case Goldman (or his co-bloggers) don’t cover, even if only briefly. Goldman’s tweet of the Supreme Court denial was nothing but the reporting of the facts with the tiniest bit of commentary. Here’s what Goldman said (links removed for clarity):
It’s not the least bit surprising, but today SCOTUS denied cert in Herrick v Grindr, a significant #Sec230 defense-favorable ruling.
Here’s how Herrick’s lawyer responded to Goldman’s innocuous tweet:
If you can’t read/see it, the tweet reads:
Sure would be a shame if somebody misused a dating app to send men to this guy’s home as happened 1200+ times to our client, Matthew.
Here’s Scott Greenfield’s take on this bizarre and inappropriate response by Herrick’s attorney:
Goldberg’s reaction to Goldman’s twit appears to be a call to make him suffer the same harm that her client suffered, to implore some unduly passionate nutjob to e-personate Goldman so that he should become the target that Herrick was at the hands of his ex-boyfriend. As sick and twisted as Herrick’s ex might have been, this effort to target Goldman for attack, for harm, was even worse.
Eric Goldman’s attention to this case was as a lawyer, a law professor. While Herrick surely suffered terrible harm, it was at the hands of his ex-boyfriend. Goldberg, a lawyer, would be playing the ex-boyfriend to Goldman, the academic, not because he did anything to her or her client, but because his view of the law differed from hers.
Now, it could be Carrie Goldberg meant to do nothing more than point out Goldman’s belief that platforms should not be held responsible for speech such as hers. If so, the point was made in the worst possible way. I doubt Goldberg wants Goldman to be harassed by strangers simply for disagreeing with her legal arguments, but a straight reading of her tweet doesn’t really lend itself to charitable interpretations.
Also, it’s odd for a self-proclaimed “victim rights'” attorney who goes around constantly insisting that her entire focus in life is protecting those who have been harmed… to then directly and explicitly wish harm on someone who merely commented (accurately) on a lawsuit. It becomes difficult to take her position seriously when she suggests the same sort of tactics she claims to fight against.
But this is the unfortunate side effect of arguments against Section 230 immunity. It’s become increasingly popular to blame the immunity for the deeds and words of third-party users. This, of course, makes no sense. But the alternative is to recognize users are responsible for their own conduct and content and that unfortunate truth simply won’t suffice when there’s lawsuits to be filed, grandstands to be stood upon, and error-laden op-eds to be composed for the New York Times.
Greenfield points out the ridiculousness of this newly-popular Section 230 hatred, which has somehow managed to draw in acolytes from all political persuasions. (We’ll try to forgive Greenfield’s use of “safe harbor” [like the DMCA] rather than “immunity” [which is what it actually is].)
[F]or some of those on the Herrick’s side of the fence, there is no concern for Section 230 safe harbor, which is seen as nothing more than a protection that allows websites and apps to avoid the responsibility they would impose to protect their victims from harm. This is a view gathering support from both the right and left, both of which abhor the idea that they can’t dictate the content of the web to suit their demands and desires.
Ironically, they may share a hatred of this safe harbor, but their notions of who would be protected if it were gone are opposite. Neither seems to have the self-awareness to grasp this distinction, and both believe that they will own the future such that their vision of authoritarian control will prevail.
Lots of people want Section 230 immunity weakened or destroyed. Everyone who does thinks the internet will be better without it. But if it’s gone, the services and platforms Section 230 opponents seem to believe will become better will actually become more restrictive or cease to exist. And crude reactions like Goldberg’s are exactly the sort of thing that will disappear fastest if platforms can be sued for things their users have said.