Vimeo's Section 230 Win in Pastor's Discrimination Suit Affirmed by Appeals Court

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Vimeo was entitled to delete the account of a pastor who posted videos about sexual orientation change efforts, according to a federal appeals court, which affirmed a decision that the video-sharing site is protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

James Domen and Church United in June 2019 sued video-sharing site Vimeo for allegedly censoring and discriminating against him based on his "preferred" sexual orientation and religious beliefs. The pastor, who says he identifies as a "former homosexual," posted a series of videos in an effort to challenge a California Assembly bill that would have expanded laws that ban sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). Vimeo sent a warning letter, explaining that it doesn't allow videos that promote SOCE, and threatening to delete the videos or the entire Church United account if Domen didn't remove the offending content.

U.S. District Judge Stewart D. Aaron in January dismissed the suit, finding Section 230 gave Vimeo immunity from such a suit because it restricted the content in good faith. On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed and affirmed the decision.

While there's been heated public debate about the fairness of protections given to internet service providers sunder Section 230, amid allegations that social media sites selectively police content posted by users, the Second Circuit says this particular situation is clear.

"Vimeo is statutorily entitled to consider SOCE content objectionable and may restrict access to that content as it sees fit," writes Circuit Judge Rosemary S. Pooler in the opinion, which is embedded below. "Moreover, the statute does not require providers to use any particular form of restriction. Although Appellants take issue with Vimeo’s deletion of Church United’s entire account as opposed to deleting only those videos 3 promoting SOCE, nothing within the statute or related case law suggests that this took Vimeo’s actions outside of the scope of subsection (c)(2) immunity. Indeed, Vimeo warned Church United that removal of the entire account was exactly what might happen if they ignored the warning."

Further, Pooler explains Section 230 doesn't require ISPs to catch and remove every single piece of content that violates its policies in order to be operating in good faith. "Given the massive amount of user-generated content available on interactive platforms, imperfect exercise of content-policing discretion does not, without more, suggest that enforcement of 10 content policies was not done in good faith."