A California judge has ruled that a lawsuit against Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, over children purchasing fentanyl can proceed.
The lawsuit involves 60 families who claim that their children purchased the drug on the app and overdosed, many of them fatally.
The families accuse Snap of multiple wrongdoings — including product defects, negligence, and wrongful death.
NBC News reports:
Relatives of over 60 young people who died from fentanyl overdoses sued Snap in October 2022 over its messaging platform Snapchat’s disappearing message feature. An extended version of the complaint filed in April 2023 said that “Snap and Snapchat’s role in illicit drug sales to teens was the foreseeable result of the designs, structures, and policies Snap chose to implement to increase its revenues.”
The complaint said that Snapchat’s disappearing messages allow those engaging in illegal conduct to obscure their actions. Social media companies have typically been shielded from many lawsuits under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law that gives many online tech companies like Snap protection from legal claims stemming from activities that occur on their platforms. However, parts of this lawsuit appear to have sidestepped Section 230 for now.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Riff said in his ruling, according to a report from CNN Business, “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act does not apply, and the lawsuit cannot be thrown out under the law, because the case does not seek to hold Snap accountable for the content made by third-party drug dealers.”
“Instead, Riff wrote in the decision, Snap can be sued because the lawsuit goes after product and business decisions that are ‘independent … of the drug sellers’ posted content,” the report explained.
Matthew Bergman, the plaintiffs’ attorney and principal at the Social Media Victims Law Center, told NBC, “We’re gratified that the court will allow parents to seek accountability for the death of their children to fentanyl overdose. This is the first time in history that a social media company has been subjected to claims that it facilitated illegal and fatal drug sales.”
Bergman added, “we will be able to shed light on this scourge of fentanyl poisonings” as the lawsuit moves to the discovery phase.
Snap has vowed to fight the case.
In a statement to NBC, Snap spokesperson Ashley Adams said the company is “working diligently to stop drug dealers from abusing our platform, and deploy technologies to proactively identify and shut down dealers, support law enforcement efforts to help bring dealers to justice, and educate our community and the general public about the dangers of fentanyl.”
Snap claims that it blocks search results for drug-related inputs.
“While we are committed to advancing our efforts to stop drug dealers from engaging in illegal activity on Snapchat, we believe the plaintiffs’ allegations are both legally and factually flawed and will continue to defend that position in court,” Adams continued.
The families are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.