Online streaming giant Netflix has finally got some relief after a US federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that was brought by the family of a teenager whose suicide was allegedly triggered by watching the popular show 13 Reasons Why. According to a report by The Hollywood Reporter, the judge based the ruling on free speech protections. US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that Netflix cannot be sued over recommending the show to viewers.
“This is a tragic case, but ultimately, I don’t think that it survives,” Rogers said. The lawsuit alleged that viewers were not adequately warned or shielded from suggestive content in 13 Reasons Why. For the unversed, the famous show 13 Reasons Why revolves around the suicide of a student Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). Before her death, Hannah had recorded 13 tapes, in which she explained a reason why she chose to take her own life.
Case against Netflix’s show 13 Reasons Why dismissed
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix cautioned in court filings that “restrictions on content would lead to censorship of creative works, noting movies depicting teen suicide such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Dead Poets Society and Dear Evan Hansen.”
The streaming platform moved to dismiss the lawsuit under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which compels the dismissal of claims challenging speech that might be protected. However, after facing criticism over the particular suicide scene, Netflix had removed the original, nearly three-minute-long suicide scene in the season one finale.
During the hearing on the motion to dismiss, Ryan Hamilton, a partner at Hamilton Law representing the plaintiff, pushed back against claims that the lawsuit is about the show’s content. He centred his arguments around Netflix’s algorithm, which he characterised as a dangerous product feature. Amid continuing outcry over the show, Netflix eventually edited the episode, removing the scene that depicted the character’s suicide. However, this was not done until July 2019, more than two years after the program premiered. The show ended up running for four seasons, with the series finale in 2020.
Apart from receiving the spotlight, lawyers for Herndon stated that the lawsuit was, in reality, targeted more toward Netflix’s algorithm, which it claimed suggested problematic and triggering content to young adults.
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