Section 230 Applies to Articles by Huffington Post Contributors–Page v. Oath
The plaintiff is Dr. Carter Page, who gained notoriety from his alleged role in Trump’s interactions with Russia, including multiple references in the Steele dossier. In 2017, he sued Oath (as owner of Yahoo and Huffington Post) for defamation over 11 articles, 4 of which were written by staffers and 7 of which were written by third-party contributors. Page initially sued in federal court, but that was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. He refiled the defamation claims in Delaware state court. The court says “the law and its application is for me straightforward” and grants Oath’s motion to dismiss.
On the defamation side, the court uses several doctrines to dismiss the claims, including truth, the fair reporting privilege, the public figure doctrine, and more.
- ICS Provider: Huffington Post is a website, which is an ICS provider.
- Third-Party Content: The contributors were third-parties, even if Huffington Post exercised “traditional editorial functions—such as deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content.”
- Publisher/Speaker Claim: The plaintiff alleged that Huffington Post “made” or “published” the statements.
The court’s conclusion about Section 230:
This is not a controversial application of Section 230. The law was designed to foster a “true diversity of political discourse.” By allowing third parties to comment on an issue of immense political concern, HuffPost did just that.
This ruling is consistent with the uncited Downs v. Oath, which held that third-party contributors to Huffington Post are legally independent “users” for purposes of Section 512(c). The court also didn’t cite Blumenthal v. Drudge, which applied Section 230 to AOL content from an independent contractor.
The court’s conclusion is a helpful reminder that Section 230 INCREASES the diversity of political discourse. With all of the false accusations about social media’s political “bias,” it’s easy to overlook the greater diversity of viewpoints online than we got in the offline world, where intermediary gatekeepers like newspapers and broadcasters controlled access to audiences and prioritized a small number of “mainstream” viewpoints. The proliferation of online self-publication tools–protected by Section 230–has empowered a wider range of voices than we heard in the pre-Internet days.
Case citation: Page v. Oath Inc., 2021 WL 528472 (Del. Superior Ct. Feb. 11, 2021)