Friday, April 24, 2009

Stephen Warren Solomon and Ralph B Saltsman on Internet Dating

Internet dating websites bombard us daily. “CraigsList” and “Seeking Arrangement” and “E-Harmony” and “” are all trying to draw men and women who want sex, companionship or marriage to view their sites and join their programs. No one can open the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times without seeing articles and ads enticing the reader into the chase. How many fatal attractions, rapists or other unsavories are lurking in any of these services lying in wait to cause injury or emotional damage? No one really knows. Who is legally liable when patron becomes victim by meeting then dating an internet contact when that victim is stalked, raped, or murdered?

Beyond the actual criminal actor, one obvious target for legal liability is the Web company. But those businesses are shielded by legal immunities constructed to protect web providers. If a website has done nothing to verify information provided by a participant, shouldn’t the law hold the site liable when that participant harms another lured by that site? One could argue that the providers need to determine the accuracy of information before it’s out on the internet. The legal theory is not much different then for the car dealer who sells defective automobiles or for the restaurant that serves contaminated food. Those businesses may be liable for damages caused. Even in commercial “speech” the First Amendment protects the internet, but those commercial internet systems should not be wholly absolved from the responsibility of providing basic customer protections. In our instantaneous electronic society, the concept of buyer beware does not provide adequate basic protection from injury or death arising from internet contacts. Of course, it will take an act of Congress strike a better balance.


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