Facebook, Google and Lexis-Nexis Get 47 USC 230 Immunity in a Bizarre Case Involving a Missing Sex Toy–Gaston v. Facebook

By Eric Goldman

Magistrate ruling: Gaston v. Facebook, Inc., 2012 WL 629868 (D. Or. February 2, 2012)

Judge’s approval of the magistrate’s ruling: Gaston v. Facebook, Inc., 2012 WL 610005 (D. Or. February 24, 2012)

Kanal V. Gaston went on a bit of a litigation tear recently, filing no less than four highly similar lawsuits (Gaston v. Harris County complaint in Oregon, Gaston v. Harris County complaint in California, Gaston v. Microsoft complaint, Gaston v. Facebook complaint). All of these lawsuits relate to issues he had with Rivas, the mother of his child, and some recriminations over a missing sex toy. If it’s important to you to try to understand how that all fits together, read the court’s description of his allegations.

With respect to the technology defendants, the court recites the following allegations:

* Facebook “has allowed and/or gave [Rivas] access to its server or internet web communication system or device or social network to spread false or defamatory statements against [him].”

* Lexis-Nexis provides “computer assisted legal research to the public at large and holds the largest electronic database for legal and public records in the world” and has “conspired with other Defendants to retaliate against [Gaston] and has published or republished false and defamatory statements against him.”

* Google “reaches more than one billion online users (people) worldwide” and has “conspired with other Defendants to retaliate against [Gaston], and has published or republished false and defamatory statements against him.”

The court easily disposes of the claims against these three defendants on 47 USC 230 grounds:

Gaston seeks to hold Google, Facebook, and Lexis Nexis liable for defaming him and/or conspiring to defame him based solely on content created or supplied by Rivas….The CDA defines “interactive computer service” as “any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the Internet and such systems operated or services offered by libraries or educational institutions.” 47 USC s 230(f)(2). Google, Facebook and Lexis Nexis clearly fall within that definition. Therefore, Gaston fails to state any viable claim for defamation against those three defendants who should be dismissed with prejudice.

Gaston didn’t contest the magistrate report, so the judge adopted the magistrate’s opinion verbatim.

The most noteworthy feature about this ruling is that Lexis-Nexis qualified for 230 coverage, which I believe is the first time they’ve done so. Even though it may be a first, this isn’t a surprising result; indeed, to the extent they manage their own electronic network, they may be a better fit for the definition of a provider of an interactive computer service than a typical website.