Don’t Snap and Drive: Social Media Companies Face Accountability for Their Role in Car Accidents

Social media can be a valuable tool in our modern society. It helps keep us connected and updated on what is happening around the world. However, sometimes the use of technology can be dangerous, especially while driving. Can social media companies be held responsible when drivers are injured while using their apps? The following article will discuss two recent cases in which plaintiffs attempted to hold Snapchat (Snap, Inc.) responsible for its alleged role in contributing to car accidents.

Lemmon v. Snapchat

In 2017, three young men in Wisconsin were killed in a car accident while using Snapchat’s “speed filter.” The driver of the vehicle was traveling at speeds of up to 123mph and attempted to document his actions on Snapchat. In the process, he ran the car off the road and crashed into a tree, killing himself and the other passengers.

The driver’s parents believed that Snapchat should have been held accountable for creating this filter and encouraging users to drive at dangerous speeds. The district court dismissed the case, citing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields social media companies from libel suits and other related civil suits based on what people post on their sites. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s decision, arguing that Section 230 did not apply in this case (because the issue was not about what someone posted to Snapchat but rather the app design itself) and ruled that the parents had the right to proceed in their suit against Snap, Inc.

Maynard v. Snapchat

There is a similar case in Georgia with almost identical facts. In this 2017 case, a young woman used the Snapchat “speed filter” while driving at speeds of 107mph and caused an accident which resulted in severe brain damage to a passenger in the other vehicle.

Snapchat argued that it was not liable for the accident or any resulting injuries, on the grounds that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shielded it from liability. The trial court agreed with this argument and ruled in favor of Snap, Inc. However, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, asserting that Section 230 did not apply to the specific facts of the case. The case was remanded to the trial court, which ruled that even if Section 230 did not apply, Snapchat did not have a duty to prevent the type of injuries resulting from the use of its filter while driving at high speeds.

What Impact Do These Cases Have?

These two cases reveal an interesting new trend in attempting to hold social media and other technology companies responsible for their role, however minor it may seem, in contributing to car accidents. These companies are obviously not completely to blame for these accidents, and drivers must take responsibility for their own actions, but if companies are designing their apps in such a way that they are likely to promote reckless driving, these companies should be held accountable. It appears that these companies can no longer safely hide behind the seemingly-impenetrable shield of Section 230.

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