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US Supreme Court rejects teen sex abuse victim’s bid to revive Snapchat lawsuit

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WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court declined on Tuesday to hear a Texas teen’s bid to revive his lawsuit accusing Snapchat owner Snap of failing to protect underage users of its social media platform from sexual predators – in this case, a female teacher who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting him.
The justices turned away up an appeal brought by the plaintiff, who was not identified by name in the case because he was a minor when it was filed, after lower courts dismissed his lawsuit.Lower courts found that Snapchat was shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which safeguards internet companies from liability for content posted by users.
Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch said they would have granted the appeal.
The case involves a relationship between Bonnie Guess-Mazock, a high school science teacher who was 36 at the time it started in 2021, and the plaintiff, who was 15, in the Texas city of Conroe, about 40 miles (65 km) north of Houston.
Criminal charges were brought against Guess-Mazock, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault of a child, according to court filings.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit accused Guess-Mazock of using Snapchat – known for its disappearing photos and videos – to groom him by sending him sexually explicit content. Over nearly a year and a half starting in 2021, Guess-Mazock sexually assaulted him until the abuse was discovered when he overdosed on drugs she either provided or paid for, the lawsuit alleged.
In 2022, Doe sued Guess-Mazock, the local public school district and Snap. Only his claims against the Santa Monica, California-based company, seeking unspecified monetary damages, were at issue in his appeal to the Supreme Court.
The plaintiff’s civil lawsuit alleged three counts of negligence against Snapchat under Texas law. He accused the company of breaching its legal duty to protect its minor users “from sexual predators who are drawn to the Snapchat application by the privacy assurances granted by the disappearing messages feature of the application.”
Houston-based US District Judge Lee Rosenthal in 2022 dismissed the suit against Snapchat, finding the company was shielded by Section 230. The New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2023 affirmed Rosenthal’s ruling, prompting the plaintiff’s appeal to the Supreme Court.
The justices in 2023 declined to address the scope of Section 230 in cases involving Google’s video-sharing platform YouTube and the social media platform Twitter, now called X.
Section 230 provides safeguards for “interactive computer services” by ensuring they cannot be treated for legal purposes as the “publisher or speaker” of information provided by users.
Thomas criticized the court’s decision to deny the appeal in a dissenting opinion that was joined by Gorsuch, arguing that social media platforms increasingly use Section 230 as a “get-out-of-jail free card.”
“In the platforms’ world, they are fully responsible for their websites when it results in constitutional protections,” Thomas wrote, “but the moment that responsibility could lead to liability, they can disclaim any obligations and enjoy greater protections from suit than nearly any other industry.”
Calls have come from across the ideological and political spectrum – including Democratic President Joe Biden and his Republican predecessor Donald Trump – for a rethink of Section 230 to ensure that companies can be held accountable for content on their platforms.





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