The news Friday that hackers released at least 100,000 Snapshot photos, including underage nude photos, onto the infamous chat forum 4chan raises the question of who will be punished for this latest violation.
The release comes after hackers stole celebrities’ nude photos, which were reposted on a Reddit thread called “The Fappening.” Reddit and 4chan are both providing a forum for hackers to violate the privacy of celebrities, and now, private individuals through the hack known as “the Snappening.”
But there’s a US law that may protect Reddit and 4chan from getting sued over some of these images, as Esquire has noted. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides immunity from liability for websites that publish information that’s provided by other parties. (Hunter Moore, the man behind a notorious “revenge porn” website, has said Section 230 protected his enterprise.)
The 1996 law, passed as the internet was rapidly growing, has been credited with helping social websites like Craigslist and Reddit flourish because they don’t have to worry about getting sued over content that other people post on their sites.
“Websites enjoy wide immunity for publishing user-generated content,” law professors Danielle Citron and Neil Richards wrote in Forbes last month. “Although courts disagree on how to interpret it, a few have held that even deliberate decisions to republish content knowing it may violate the law enjoys immunity from liability.”
However, there are exceptions to Section 230’s immunity. For one thing, nothing in Section 230 protects online publishers of third-party content from criminal prosecution for the sexual exploitation of children. That exception suggests 4chan could be prosecuted for pictures of underage people included in “The Snappening,” which could technically qualify as child porn. Indeed, Reddit has removed underage photos from the site, including pictures of the gymnast McKayla Maroney.
Another big exception is copyright law. If Jennifer Lawrence (the most high-profile celebrity hacking victim) took nude photos of herself, she might be able to file a successful copyright suit against websites that posted her nude images. As an apparent move to avoid such lawsuits, in the wake of the celebrity photo hack 4chan agreed to remove content when notified of “bona fide infringement,” Ars Technica has reported.