The labels which Facebook posts on its fact-checks are nothing more than opinions, attorneys for Mark Zuckerberg's Meta social media company admitted.
The attorneys made the claim in a lawsuit filed in federal court by independent commentator John Stossel, who sued Facebook and two of its fact-checking partners, Science Feedback and Climate Feedback, accusing the entities of defaming him, The Epoch Times reported on Dec. 10.
Meta claims that its fact-checkers are independent from Facebook and that it is protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
“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,” the attorney's wrote in a filing asking for the court to dismiss the case.
“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,” the attorneys added.
The Epoch Times noted that the claim regarding opinions is seen as key "because an opinion is more difficult to press a defamation claim against."
Stossel filed the lawsuit over fact-checks on two reports he posted on Facebook, one of which explored the forest fires devastating California in 2020, including an interview with Michael Shellenberger, a climate change expert.
Stossel said that climate change has made things worse in the state; Shellenberger said climate change played a role but that mismanaged forests were the primary reason for the large fires. Facebook placed a label over the video, telling users that it was “missing context.”
If users clicked through, they were met with a page on Climate Feedback’s website that stated “Claim – 'forest fires are caused by poor management. Not by climate change.' and “Verdict: misleading.”
That claim, though, is “contained nowhere in” Stossel’s video, the suit says.
Stossel said he reached out to Climate Feedback and they didn’t respond, but two of the scientists listed as the group’s reviewers admitted they had not reviewed the video.
Stossel said Facebook's fact-checking process “is nothing more than a pretext used by defendants to defame users with impunity, particularly when defendants disagree with the scientific opinions expressed in user content.”
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