Section 230 Protects Emailing an Article–Monge v. University of Pennsylvania

This case involves an article that allegedly defamed Dr. Janet Monge. Dr. Deborah Thomas, a Penn professor, forwarded the article to an email list run by the American Black Anthropologists. Dr. Monge sued Dr. Thomas (and many other defendants). For more background on this complex case, see this opinion. In this ruling, Dr. Thomas successfully invoked Section 230.

(Note: it’s unclear if Dr. Thomas forwarded a third party’s email that included the article, or if she wrote a new email that included the allegedly defamatory article. It’s also unclear if Dr. Thomas’ email linked to the article or included its full text. None of those facts would affect Section 230’s application).

From a Section 230 standpoint, this is an easy case. Numerous cases have applied Section 230 to email forwarding of third-party content, and this case fits snugly into the genre. Thus, the judge says that courts have “consistently held that distributing, sharing, and forwarding content created and/or developed by a third party is conduct immunized by the CDA.” Cites to Green v. AOL, Obado v. Magedson, Peters v. LifeLock, Mitan v. A. Neumann, Novins v. Cannon, Phan v. Pham.

To get around this, Dr. Monge argued that Dr. Thomas materially contributed to the defamation due to the other remarks in her email. This doesn’t work because “Dr. Thomas did not add anything new to the articles, or materially modify them, when she shared them via email….All Dr. Thomas did was share the articles via email with her opinion, based on the content of the articles, that Dr. Monge had improperly handled the remains.” Cites to Batzel, Phan,

This is a good example of how Section 230 benefits online users, not just “Big Tech.” Dr. Thomas gets the same legal protection as Google and Facebook, even though she’s didn’t operate any system at all.

It’s also a reminder of how Section 230 currently protects the promotion of content, in addition to the hosting of it. That aspect remains pending with the US Supreme Court.

Case citation: Monge v. University of Pennsylvania, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40724 (E.D. Pa. March 10, 2023)

Prior Blog Posts on Email Forwarding and Related Activities