Section 230 Helps Yahoo Defeat Lawsuit Over Online Harassment Campaign–Hall v. Yahoo

[It’s impossible to blog about Section 230 without reminding you that Congress is on the cusp of gutting it.]

Thomas Hall is a lawyer and author. He claims he was targeted for email harassment by several individuals. He further claims that Yahoo published defamatory material from his harassers using Yahoo and Hotmail accounts. Yahoo submitted a declaration that it hadn’t operated the accounts that Hall claims harassed him. Yahoo made an anti-SLAPP motion predicated in part on Section 230, and the court concludes Hall did not make the requisite showing of success.

Hall tries to overcome Section 230 by arguing that Yahoo failed to disclose identifying information for the Yahoo/Hotmail accountholders and therefore takes legal responsibility for their actions. The court flatly rejects the argument, saying the “CDA contains no such requirement.” The court adds “there was undisputed evidence that Yahoo was not responsible, in whole or in part, for the content of the emails and posts that are the subject of Hall’s claims.”

Hall’s argument is a variation of an argument that Section 230 doesn’t apply to anonymous or pseudonymous accounts. Stated that way, this case differs from a ruling like Huon v. Denton, where the plaintiff got a remarkably indulgent appellate panel to believe that the site operator could have been behind pseudonymous accounts. In contrast, this court’s opinion seemed to indicate Hall never tried that argument, and (because of California’s good anti-SLAPP law) he would have had to introduce some evidence to rebut Yahoo’s declaration–evidence Hall likely didn’t have. So future plaintiffs need not try working around Section 230 for not revealing the identity of pseudonymous accounts. It won’t work. Cf. Obado v. Magedson, Price v. Gannett, Hadley v. Gatehouse Media.

Note how UK law would reach a different conclusion on these facts.

Case citation: Hall v. Yahoo! Inc., 2017 WL 3305935 (Cal. App. Ct. Aug. 3, 2017)