SAN FRANCISCO, CA – In a recent court filing, lawyers representing Meta – the parent company of Facebook – admitted that “fact check” disclaimers that appear on posts on the social media platform are, in reality, the equivalent of “opinions.”
Facebook, along with two of its fact-checking partners Science Feedback and Climate Feedback, were recently the subject of a lawsuit filed by Television journalist John Stossel, perhaps best known for an infamous 1984 incident where he was legitimately slapped in the face twice on-camera by a pro wrestler, resulting in a lawsuit.
Stossel has alleged that Facebook “defamed” him by marking two of his video reports posted on the social media platform with “fact check” disclaimers.
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One of the reports in question – “Government Fueled Fires” – concerned 2020 California forest fires and featured interviews with climate change expert Michael Shellenberger; in the video, Stossel stated that climate change has contributed to the fires, but Shellenberger said that forest mismanagement played a much greater role.
Facebook’s fact checkers labeled the video as “misleading” and “missing context,” and featured a link to provide more information on the topic; however, the linked website instead stated that the California wildfires were the fault of forest mismanagement, as opposed to climate change.
Stossel’s lawsuit says that claim is not contained in the video; in fact, he acknowledged: “Climate change has made things worse. California has warmed 3 degrees over 50 years.” Stossel lawsuit contends that that Facebook’s disclaimer caused immediate harm to his viewership and reputation; he is asking for at least $2 million and for the disclaimers to be removed in his lawsuit, which was filed in a federal court in northern California.
Later, two of the Climate Feedback scientists involved in fact-checking Stossel’s video admitted that they had never watched the video.
Stossel says in his lawsuit that a similar satiation occurred in relation to a second video he produced about environmental alarmists.
Meta lawyers responded to Stossel’s lawsuit by requesting a dismissal, claiming that their fact-checkers are “independent from Facebook” and that they are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which does not hold social media platforms responsible for contents posted by its users.
Radio and television show Physiologist Dave Champion, Ph.D. – aka Dr Reality, called the admission “stunning.”
The lawyers also say that Stossel’s lawsuit fails to prove that Meta acted with actual malice against a public figure, and that the fact checking disclaimers against him were not false or defamatory; instead, the lawyers argued, they were “protected opinion.” Opinions are typically more difficult to successfully win a defamation lawsuit over.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh will hear oral arguments on the defense’s motion to dismiss in March 2022.
Conservative icon Candace Owens also began suing Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers last year saying ‘it is time to fact-check the fact-checkers’ as she named Facebook in her lawsuit.