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Netflix Says Its Algorithms Are Protected Under the First Amendment

Netflix original series '13 Reasons Why'
(Image credit: Netflix)

On the same week that it was reported that Netflix tweaked its search algorithms a year ago to hide French film Cuties and quash a controversy surrounding the movie, it's now been revealed that Netflix has declared that its algorithms are protected by the First Amendment. 

Netflix is being sued in a Northern California federal court by the family of Isabella Herndon. The lead plaintiff, John Herndon, blames his daughter's suicide on her viewing of the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why … which debuted in March 2017 and focused on a young man determined to find out why a high school classmate took her own life. (The Libertarian-targeted Reason was the first to publish the lawsuit.)

The plaintiffs, who do not name Jay Asher, author of the eponymous 2007 source novel for the series, accuse Netflix of not adequately warning viewers about the perils of its show‘s ”dangerous features.“ 

The Herndon's also say Netflix's search and recommendation algorithms--which helped the victim find the show and enticed her to watch it--also aided and abetted her demise. 

Netflix, the plaintiffs contend, used “its trove of individualized data about its users to specifically target vulnerable children and manipulate them into watching content that was deeply harmful for them — despite dire warning about the likely and foreseeable consequences to such children,” the suit contends. 

Netflix has petitioned the court for dismissal of the suit under California's “anti-SLAPP” statute, which permits courts to toss complaints based on protected speech. 

Netflix argues that its ”recommendations fall within the well-recognized right to exercise ‘editorial control and judgement.’ ”

Earlier this week, technology news site The Verge reported that Netflix, responding to conservative-led protestations over the film Cuties, and it's alleged sexualization of minors, removed the film from the “coming soon” and “popular searches” categories, while also excluding it from queries for terms including “cute.”