John Stossel files suit against Facebook, Inc. and three other organizations for defamation. Facebook files motion for dismissal. Let’s unpack it.
John Stossel is suing Facebook for allegedly defaming him with false fact-checks for two videos he published to Facebook in 2021. For those that may not know who John Stossel is. He’s been a solid, award winning investigative journalist for over five decades with very little baggage and controversy. Apparently Facebook’s quasi fact-checking lackeys don’t look for hornets nests before they tinkle.
Here’s the gist. Facebook’s “fact checkers” labeled the videos that Stossel produced and posted as “false and misleading”. One of the players in the middle of this suit is a website called “Climate Feedback”. I had never heard of them. As I was browsing their Tweets and articles I couldn’t help but wonder, “How much does their weekly tanker truck of kool-aid cost? Do they get a discount? What flavor do they drink?”
The other so-called fact checking organization named in the suit, “Science Feedback”, didn’t rate very high on the credibility scale, either. Their so-called fact checks follow a similar “we-disagree-therefore-it-is-not-true” trend of not really checking for facts, but simply shouting down their opponents with flawed opinions.
From the filing:
Plaintiff John Stossel (“Stossel”) by and through his undersigned attorneys, for his Complaint
against Facebook, Inc., (“Facebook”) Science Feedback, and Climate Feedback (collectively,
“Defendants”), alleges as follows
1. This case presents a simple question: do Facebook and its vendors defame a user who
posts factually accurate content, when they publicly announce that the content failed a “fact-check” and
is “partly false,” and by attributing to the user a false claim that he never made? The answer, of course,
2. Facebook’s CEO has famously acknowledged to Congress that “[w]e do not want to become the arbiters of truth.”
3. Yet Facebook and its “fact-check” vendors are currently serving as judge, jury, and executioner regarding whether users are on the “right” or “wrong” side of a complex scientific debate. And when user content challenges the scientific opinions with which Defendants agree, Defendants use the pretext of a “fact-check” to affix disparaging labels to the content, or to expressly mischaracterize the content, even when Defendants know that none of the facts underlying the content are false.
4. This reality is evidenced in the case of Plaintiff John Stossel, an award winning career journalist with a formerly unblemished reputation for truthful and accurate reporting.
5. In the last year, Stossel posted on Facebook two short video reports in which he interviewed experts in the climate change arena about facts and data that Defendants concede are true.
6. Without identifying a single false fact contained in the video reports – and in one instance, apparently without even bothering to review the video at all – Defendants publicly announced that Stossel’s reporting had failed a “fact-check.”
7. In one video, Defendants falsely attributed to Stossel a claim he never made, and on that basis flagged the content as “misleading” and “missing context,” so that would-be viewers would be routed to the false attribution statement.
8. To the second video, Defendants affixed a “partly false” / “[contains] factual inaccuracies” label, despite Defendants’ knowledge that the content contained no false facts.
9. When Stossel challenged Defendants on their false attribution and labels, Defendants’ reviewers explained that the judgment was based on Defendants’ displeasure with the “tone” of Stossel’s speech, with what it allegedly “implies,” and with the “broader claims” it was exploring – not about any
false facts it contained.
10. Stossel was given no meaningful avenue to contest these unilateral decisions about the truth of his journalism. Meanwhile, his viewership plummeted due to both Facebook’s censorship and the reputational harm caused by the false labels.
11. Defendants defamed Stossel, with malice. First, they attributed to Stossel a claim he did not make, and which caused his viewers to shun him. Defendants made this false attribution recklessly, before they had even reviewed his video. And even after Stossel brought the issue to Defendants’ attention, Defendants refused to correct their speech, and intentionally left the false attribution online for anyone to see, where it remains today.
12. Then, Defendants falsely labeled Stossel’s second video report as having failed a “factcheck” and stated that it contained “factual inaccuracies” and was “partly false.” Defendants applied these labels, knowing full well that Stossel’s content contained not a single false fact, and despite the
concession by Defendants’ own scientist reviewer that no “specific facts” in the report were “wrong.”
13. Defendants’ statements are provably false, inherently damaging to Stossel, and were made either with a reckless disregard for their truth or falsity, or with knowledge of their falsity.
14. With this lawsuit, Stossel asks the Court to declare that Defendants are not permitted to hide behind the masquerade of a “fact-check” to defame him with impunity, and that they must make him whole for the damage they have maliciously caused by their provably false and disparaging statements about his reporting.Click here to view Stossel’s complete court filing.
Check out the video posts referenced in the suit, below. The “Fact Check” popups are still active. Is it just me or are fact checking system completely insane at best, libelous at worst?
Facebook Files Motion To Dismiss
While reading the motion for dismissal, I envisioned the Facebook legal team grinning as they gently shoved their client’s contractor, ” Climate Feedback”, under The Bus?
Beyond this threshold Section 230 problem, the complaint also fails to state a claim for defamation. For one, Stossel fails to plead facts establishing that Meta acted with actual malice—which, as a public figure, he must. For another, Stossel’s claims focus on the fact-check articles written by Climate Feedback, not the labels affixed through the Facebook platform. The labels themselves are neither false nor defamatory; to the contrary, they constitute protected opinion. And even if Stossel could attribute Climate Feedback’s separate webpages to Meta, the challenged statements on those pages are likewise neither false nor defamatory. Any of these failures would doom Stossel’s complaint, but the combination makes any amendment futile.Read Facebook’s complete Dismissal Filing Here
A Facebook user makes a valid point:
I haven’t read the actual filing yet, because I don’t want to get a headache, but it sounds like they’re saying they can’t be sued because the Fact Checks are just opinions (protected opinions..?). And opinions cannot be defamatory. And even if they were, the Fact Checkers are separate entities. That’s their story.
But… They are using those “opinions” to suppress posts, whether it’s just an annoying box over the post or a cover over a meme or flat out removal of a post.. that discourages others from viewing or sharing and that IS suppression. That sounds like an editorial decision to me. Doesn’t that negate their section 230 protections? Perhaps a talented attorney could also convince a judge that using opinion checks disguised as fact checks to insinuate that the poster is acting irresponsibly, when they are not, could be considered defamatory?
This should be an uphill battle for Facebook, but more often than not these days, leftist controlled American courts make decisions that defy any semblance of reason and justice. The best Stossel and the public at-large can hope for is that this case moves forward with depositions and on to a jury. Even then we have to consider that, with the generations of leftist indoctrinated U.S. citizens, the jury pool is likely to be tainted.