Online Dating Sites Don’t Have To Tell You Your Date Might Be A Murderer

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As if we don't hear enough about the perils of online dating already, this is the latest news about the potential dangers of looking for love online: your online dating site doesn't have to tell you that your date might be a murderer.

Eric Goldman, a Forbes contributor who also teaches Internet Law at Santa Clara University in California, cautions daters in a recent article on Forbes.com. He begins with the story of Mary Kay Beckman, who met a man named Wade Mitchell Ridley on Match.com in 2011. After dating briefly, Beckman broke it off.

Three months later, Ridley attacked Beckman in her home, repeatedly stabbing and kicking her. Later, it was revealed that Ridley already faced a murder charge in Arizona, where he was suspected of killing an ex-girlfriend with a butcher knife. Authorities also believe he robbed a pharmacy of painkillers earlier in the day. He was sentenced to 28-70 years in prison, where he died in May 2012.

Beckman survived the attack, and believes Match.com should take responsibility for the tragedy. She sued the dating site, but her suit was eventually dismissed.

Goldman thinks the outlook is bleak for suits like Beckman's. "Lawsuits against online dating sites tend to generate widespread press coverage going into detail about the victimization," he writes, "as stories like Beckman's prey on common fears about online dating." But although they generate outpourings of sympathy, they have historically been completely ineffective.

Beckman's suit was doomed from the start, says Goldman, because of a law that says websites aren't liable for user content. Plaintiffs have argued that they aren't suing dating sites over posts, but rather for failing to provide protection from dangerous users, but to date they've had zero success.

A similar case ruled that "all of Match.com's conduct must trace back to the publication of third-party user content or profiles. Match.com is a website that publishes dating profiles. There is nothing for Match.com to negligently misrepresent or negligently fail to warn about other than what a user of the website may find on another user's profile on the website."

Plaintiffs will no doubt continue their attempts to hold dating sites accountable for the actions of their members, and get increasingly creative in doing so, but Goldman believes their efforts are unlikely to be fruitful. "I've never seen a successful 'failure to warn' argument make any progress in working around" the law, he notes.

The best hope is that the websites will care enough about their reputation to voluntarily take measures to protect their members from harm.