Barnes v. Yahoo!, 570 F.3d 1096 (9th Cir. 2009)

Type of online publisher: 
Yahoo!, public user profiles
Publisher's Role in Third Party Content: 
Hosting, failing to remove
CDA § 230 applicable?: 
Yes (to tort claim); No (to promissory estoppel claim based on company employee's promise to remove offensive content)

When Yahoo! failed to take down a false profile of the plaintiff even after a company employee assured her that it would be removed, the plaintiff sued the company claiming that it had acted negligently by not undertaking a promised action (removing the profile). The court held that because the action in question was publishing or removing third-party content, CDA § 230 applied. But the court permitted the plaintiff to recast her tort claim in terms of promissory estoppel. Because a Yahoo! employee told the plaintiff the profile would be removed, she could potentially hold the company liable "as the counter-party to a contract" created by that promise. CDA § 230 would not bar a promissory estoppel claim because "liability here would come not from Yahoo's publishing conduct," but from the company's legally binding promise to do something, "which happens to be removal of material from publication.

Key Quotes:

Contract liability here would come not from Yahoo's publishing conduct, but from Yahoo's manifest intention to be legally obligated to do something, which happens to be removal of material from publication. Contract law treats the outwardly manifested intention to create an expectation on the part of another as a legally significant event. That event generates a legal duty distinct from the conduct at hand, be it the conduct of a publisher, of a doctor, or of an overzealous uncle.

Court Opinion Document: 

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