The Fifth Circuit ruled on May 16 that neither MySpace nor its parent company, News Corporation, could be responsible for the sexual assault of an underage user who misrepresented her age to gain access to the Web site.
In 2005, 13-year-old “Julie Doe” lied, saying she was 18, when she signed up for a MySpace account. By lying, she waived her right to automatic privacy settings implemented by the social networking Web site to protect 14 to 15-year-old users, the youngest the Web site allows. After Pete Solis, a nineteen-year-old MySpace user, initiated contact through the Web site and sexually assaulted Julie, Julie and her mother sued MySpace and News Corporation, claiming that Julie and Solis “should never have been able to meet,” according to the opinion.
The court found that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — the "Good Samaritan provision" — protects MySpace as an online publisher against third-party posting of content. The policy behind the provision is to protect against a chilling effect on the First Amendment speech right that occurs when liability for third-party use falls to intermediary online publishers. The court found the flaws in this age-checking technology do not constitute negligence; while MySpace maintains software to attempt to catch users who lie about their ages, it is clearly not fail-proof.