A woman has sued Reddit for allowing an ex-boyfriend to repeatedly post pornographic images of her as a 16-year-old. The lawsuit applies controversial measures instituted in 2018 under FOSTA-SESTA to a site that’s drawn particular criticism for child sexualization. The resulting case will test the limits of platforms’ legal shields amid ongoing efforts to pare back the law behind them.
The woman, identified under the pseudonym Jane Doe, argues that “Reddit knowingly benefits from lax enforcement of its content polices, including for child pornography.” She claims that in 2019, an abusive ex-boyfriend posted sexual photos and videos that he’d taken without her knowledge or consent. But when she alerted Reddit moderators, they could wait “several days” before removing the content, while Reddit administrators allowed the man to keep posting and create a new account when his old account was banned.
“Because Reddit refused to help, it fell to Jane Doe to monitor no less than 36 subreddits — that she knows of — which Reddit allowed her ex-boyfriend to repeatedly use to repeatedly post child pornography,” the complaint reads. “Reddit’s refusal to act has meant that for the past several years Jane Doe has been forced to log on to Reddit and spend hours looking through some of its darkest and most disturbing subreddits so that she can locate the posts of her underage self and then fight with Reddit to have them removed.”
The woman is seeking a class action suit representing anyone who had similar photos or videos posted on Reddit while they were under 18 years of age. She’s accusing Reddit of distributing child pornography, failing to report child sexual abuse material, and violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. It’s unclear whether the ex-boyfriend — who would be fully liable for posting the images — has been sued or criminally charged.
The complaint cites FOSTA-SESTA, an amendment to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, as a central element of the lawsuit. Section 230 provides a broad legal shield for “interactive computer services” like Reddit, limiting their liability if users post illegal content. But the 2018 FOSTA-SESTA bill removed protections for sex trafficking-related material. The lawsuit apparently argues Jane Doe’s case meets that definition because Reddit’s advertising revenue turned the video into a “commercial sex act.”
The lawsuit argues that Reddit knew its site was a hub for illegal photos and videos, based on news coverage and tips from users themselves, and it should have done more to protect victims. “Reddit has itself admitted that it is aware of the presence of child pornography on its website,” the complaint reads. Among other questionable content, it lists several now-removed subreddits with titles referencing “jailbait,” including an infamous forum that was removed in 2011 after media controversy. (That subreddit did not allow nude images, but it encouraged sexually suggestive ones.)