When a non-user is suing Grindr for harassment, it’s going to be interesting. Matthew Herrick, an up and coming actor, living in New York City, had had his life ruined when a salty ex-boyfriend used the popular dating site to send people to his apartment and his place of work telling him that he agreed to have sex with them.
Of course, Herrick sued. He did not only sue his ex-boyfriend, but he also sued Grindr for being a vehicle that allows the abuse and harassment to happen. Matthew’s high-profile legal case against the popular hookup platform highlights the ability of people to affect other people’s lives even if they work virtually. However, Herrick’s case has received a cold shoulder from the courts and outrightly dismissed the lawsuit opening the debate to whether these kinds of apps are protected by certain legal stature.
Initially, Herrick filed negligence and emotional distress claims from Grindr’s failure to remove his former boyfriend’s harassing and offensive postings but was turned down by a local court forcing the victim to take his case to an appellate court. The appeals court judges eventually rejected the motion two months ago.
“I am heartbroken,” laments Matthew Herrick upon hearing that his appeal was also denied.
“I find it reprehensible that a company that knew the horror I experienced from their platform for an entire year has no responsibility to step in or take any accountability,” Herrick wrote. “This wasn’t simply harassment. This was a full-fledged attack on my life.”
The basis of Herrick’s suit is that his then-boyfriend who he broke up with decided to use Grindr to torment him between October 2016 and March 2017. His ex set up fake profiles bearing his name and photos, essentially impersonating him, and allegedly directing interested men to go to his address for a hook-up. To make matters worse, the fake profile is meant to attract men who are into deviant sexual preferences like BDSM and hard-core sex. Furthermore, the profile description of the account appears to be incriminating to the innocent Matthew Herrick as it includes code words for drugs, unprotected sex, and bondage. The fake profile also falsely claimed that Herrick was HIV-positive.
According to the official court documents filed by Herrick, what happened to him was a “nightmare.” He characterized the event with strangers randomly appearing at his doorstep. While Herrick did his best to explain the circumstances to the men fooled into barging his home, there were those who thought that he is only role-playing and refused to leave, “aggressively demanding sex, sometimes violently.”
During the decision of the appellate court, the judge said that Grindr was protected from liability for exercising “a publisher’s traditional editorial functions,” or providing “‘neutral assistance’ in the form of tools and functionality available equally to bad actors and the app’s intended users.”
The first lawsuit was filed in January 2017 and was dismissed one year after filing. Herrick’s lawyer Tor Ekeland said in an interview he was “disappointed but not surprised” by Wednesday’s decision because courts are “extremely deferential to big tech” when interpreting the CDA.
As a response to Herrick’s accusations, the lawyers representing Grindr said that it rigorously worked to try to stop the alleged impersonation […] and identified and deleted numerous accounts.” Nonetheless, Grindr stood by its central defense that the app cannot be liable for content posted by a third party.
The app was invoking a specific stature that has also previously protected content-based applications from being sued — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Grindr – like Facebook, Reddit, Yelp or other online platforms that do not produce their own content – are generally immunized from lawsuits such as Herrick’s. Section 230 was intended to encourage freedom of expression online, but it leaves victims like Herrick without much legal recourse against powerful Internet companies. The decision made by the appeals court on the case of Herrick against Grindr further confirms the limitations of CDA and the extent of its protection to apps like Grindr.
“The weaponization of products has become a major issue with no legal recourse to the ones it harms,” Herrick wrote in his reply.
In a statement to Yahoo by Carrie Goldberg, she swore that she would spend her career in lobbying for the abolishment of the said stature. “I’m on a f***ing crusade against Section 230.”