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Communications Decency Act Protects TikTok from Wrongful Death Suit (PA)

January 13, 2023

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The Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently held that social media platform TikTok, Inc. and ByteDance, Inc.(a technology company) are immune from a mother’s wrongful death claim under the Communications Decency Act. <em><a href="">Tawainna Anderson</a></em>, the mother of a deceased 10-year-old Nylah Anderson, sued TikTok after her daughter died when she attempted to perform a viral TikTok challenge known as the “Blackout Challenge,” which encourages children to choke themselves until passing out. In her Complaint, Anderson alleged that the challenge was thrust in front of her daughter on her daughter’s TikTok “For You” Page as a result of TikTok’s algorithm. Plaintiff’s mother alleged that while the companies are not liable as publishers, they are as organizations responsible for their own independent conduct as the designers, programmers, manufacturers, sellers, and/or distributors of their dangerously defective social media products and their own independent acts of negligence. Plaintiff argued her claim fell outside of the potential protections afforded by Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act. Additionally, Plaintiff brought a strict liability claim against the Defendants for failure to warn.

Regardless of Plaintiff’s allegations, the Court held that Congress precluded interactive service providers from being treated as the publisher of third-party content and thus immunized the providers from “decisions relating to the monitoring, screening, and deletion of content.” The Court reiterated that algorithms are not content in themselves and that Defendant simply published content. Thus, TikTok and ByteDance are shielded from liability under Section 230.

Thanks to Jean Scanlan for her assistance in this post. Should you have any questions, please contact <a href="">Tom Bracken</a>.


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