TECH has led to a lot of trouble lately : hate speech, financial scams, undermined elections. Yet tech companies have largely avoided legal consequences in the United States, thanks to a landmark 1996 law that protects them from lawsuits.

NOW that law, Section 2330 of the Communications Decency Act, has a new threat : Annie McAdams, a personal injury lawyer in Houston.

Ms. McAdams is waging a legal assault against Facebook and other tech companies, accusing them of sex trafficking of minors. In a series of lawsuits in California, Georgia, Missouri and Texas, she is using a novel argument to challenge the 1996 law finding some early success.

Last year, a Texas judge has repeatedly denied Facebook's motions to dismiss her lawsuits.

SECTION 230 states that Internet companies are not liable for what their users post. Ms. McAdams argues that in the case of pimps who use Facebook and Instagram to lure children into prostitution, separate law requires Facebook to warn users of that risk and do more to prevent it.

''If you sell a lawn mower and the blade flies off and chops someone in the leg, you have the responsibility to fix it and warn people,'' she said. ''Nowehere else has an industry been afforded this luxury of protection from being held accountable for anything that they've caused.

Ms. McAdam's lawsuits are part pf a broader, yearslong effort to use the courts to upend the way the 23-year-old law governs the Internet.

While Section 230 is increasingly debated in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail, legislation is not expected to significantly weaken the law anytime soon.

Instead, lawyers are pushing ahead with federal and state lawsuits to challenge its protection of Internet companies. After years of court rulings that strengthened the law, cracks have begun to show.

In 2016, a federal appeals court ruled that Section 230 didn't protect a modeling website that two men had used to lure women whom they drugged and sexually assaulted, because the site's owners had known of the threat and failed to warn the women.

IN MARCH, a federal appeals court affirmed a ruling that Airbnb could be held liable if its users violated home-rental bans in Santa Monica, Calif.

And in July, another federal appeals court rejected Amazon's Section 230 arguments and said it could be held liable for selling defective products after a woman sued over a broken dog leash that partly blinded her. The court is rehearing the case at Amazon's request.

''Plaintiffs keep taking cracks at it, and every time they don't instantly lose, they pour more resources into that crack to see if they can split it open,'' said Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor who supports the law.

Ms. McAdam's case is is one of the widest cracks today. Facebook asked Steven Kirkland, a state judge in Houston, to dismiss two of Ms.McAdams's lawsuits because of its immunity under Section 230.

The judge denied the company's motions, though the rulings offered little insight into his thinking. He declined to elaborate in an interview.

''It's always noteworthy when a 230 dismissal isn't granted in a case involving someone like Facebook, because we just presume Facebook won't be liable for what its users are doing,'' Mr. Goldman said.

Facebook responded to the judge's decision in Houston with a nearly 5--page petition to a Texas appeals court, arguing that Judge Kirkland had erred. ''The claims here asserted against Facebook have no basis in law,'' Facebook's lawyers wrote in the petition.

A Facebook spokeswoman added that the company ''has zero tolerance for any behavior or content that exploits children on our platform'' and that it used sophisticated technology and a partnership with a children's advocacy group ''to aggressively combat this behavior and protect children.''

The honor and serving of the latest research in legal developments for Social Platforms and the Internet, continues to Part-2. The World Students Society thanks author Jack Nicas.


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