Another way that Craigslist differs from newspapers

US court protects Craigslist from housing suit | The Register

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sued Craigslist in February 2006, alleging that the site violated the Fair Housing Act by providing a forum for users to post housing notices stating a discriminatory preference. The district court ruled in favor of Craigslist and dismissed the suit later that year.On appeal, the Lawyer’s Committee argued that Section 230 only applied to websites that took steps to filter out unlawful content. This argument unsuccessfully attempted to take advantage of the Seventh Circuit’s narrow interpretation of Section 230 from a previous case.

The author of that case, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, also wrote the current opinion in the Craigslist case. He upheld the reasoning of the previous decision and limited Section 230’s scope to those claims that have a publication element. This means that courts within the Seventh Circuit’s jurisdiction cannot hold websites liable for injuries that require some kind of publication, such as defamation or the discriminatory housing postings at issue in the Craigslist case, but can find the sites liable for all other torts arising out of information provided by their users.

If you’re a newspaper and you publish classified ads, you have to make sure your advertisers abide by nondiscrimination rules. But apparently if you’re a website, you don’t. I can see it as a reasonable interpretation of the law, but there’s a pretty fundamental problem of equity here. Just for the exploding-head crowd, I wonder what happens in the case of a newspaper that publishes both a print and online edition of its avertisements. You could run discriminatory ads in one but not the other? (Yeah, I know that there’s nominally a difference between “users” and “advertisers”, but Craigslist has blurred the heck out of it, and there’s no a priori reason that others couldn’t follow in their footsteps…)


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