Can I sue the website for criminal acts of a user?
Match.com was sued last week because a male user sexually abused a female user on the second date. Facebook and MySpace already warded off similar suits from parents of children who were stalked online based, at least in part, on Section 230 Communications Decency Act immunity.
These stories are indeed tragic, but it reminds me of the famous defense theme:
Tragedy Strikes – Blame is Quick to Follow
No amount of technical or legal safeguards can prevent evildoers from doing evil. These sites do not guarantee the safety of the users and often include such disclaimers in their terms of service. That fine print you agree to when you create an account does matter and is usually enforced. There is a reason these sites are free to use.
In the Match.com suit, the Jane Doe plaintiff claims she was abused on the second date. At that point, she did her own due diligence discovering he had a record of sexual assault. Interestingly, the plaintiff is not seeking damages — right now. Instead, she is seeking an order that would shut down the site until Match.com comes up with a way to determine the background of its users (suggesting it tie in to a credit card at sign up).
While it sounds like a reasonable idea, how far do you want to take it? Bars are popular places where people meet, should they be required to run checks on their patrons? How much information are you willing to give to Match.com before you create a profile?
The answer appears to be a market one and not a legal one. It appears there is a void in the market for a dating site that guarantees the background of the users. If that is what people want, then there should be a site out there where all users are run through a criminal background check with the posted results for all to see. Should we run a credit report too? Would you pay to be on that site?
You can listen to my radio interview with KRLD Radio on the case.
4-19-11 Update: Despite concerns that a background check will provide a false sense of security, Match.com released a statement late Sunday night that it was going to try and check its customers against the national sex offender regitsry.