Conservative-libertarian journalist John Stossel suing Facebook for two million dollars is a good start — but only a start.
Variety reported late last week that the popular TV and internet personality seeks damages of no less than $2 million for defamtion via the company’s fact-checking system.
The suit, filed in the Northern District of California court by Dhillon Law Group, asks:
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,” the suit states, “is yes.”
Stossel and his attorneys argue that “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.”
The suit involves two climate change videos that caught the ire of Facebook’s fact-checkers:
In one video, “Government Fueled Fires,” about the 2020 wildfires in California, Facebook and its fact-checking partners “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.” The complaint says that Stossel’s video “explored a scientific hypothesis” that “while climate change undoubtedly contributes to forest fires, it was not the primary cause of the 2020 California fires.” Per the suit, Stossel says he never made the claim that “Forest fires are caused by poor management. Not by climate change,” which was in Facebook’s fact-check.
Stossel’s suit says Facebook uses “the pretext of a ‘fact-check’ to affix disparaging labels to the content, or to expressly mischaracterize the content,” even when they know the content is not untrue.
Furthermore, there is “no meaningful avenue to contest these unilateral decisions” and that Facebook “refused to correct their speech, and intentionally left the false attribution online for anyone to see.”
Stossel’s “viewership plummeted due to both Facebook’s censorship and the reputational harm caused by the false labels,” the suit also says.
The only problem? If there’s a way through the courts to change Facebook’s bad behavior, it’s going to take a judgment with a lot more zeroes on the end.
Facebook reported $29 billion in profits in 2020, or over $3.3 million each hour. Even if completely successful, Stossel would get back from Facebook only about 40 minutes worth of profits.
There are other ways of fighting Facebook, however — and, no, “getting off Facebook” still isn’t one of them. To paraphrase an article I wrote earlier this year, Facebook wasn’t able to hurt Stossel because Stossel has a small presence on Facebook; it’s because two billion other people are on Facebook.
They control immense amounts of web traffic for no reason other than for untold millions of users, Facebook is the internet. Just like AOL was for so many people back in the ’90s, but at a scale Steve Case could only dream of.
That’s why PJ Media has moved some of our most informative (but to the Left, most controversial) material behind the VIP paywall. As much as it legitimately pains some of our readers, the VIP section is the only place where we can even discuss certain issues without Facebook being able to tarnish our reputation, as it has Stossel’s, or even put us out of business.
Much like free broadcast television controlled by just three networks has given way to more paid streaming service than I can count, the free flow of information has to get out from under the thumb of a few social media giants like Facebook.
I know during these trying times it’s a lot to ask, but if you are interested in becoming one of our growing community of VIP supporters, we’d love to have you on board.
And as the details of Stossel’s suit show, we need you on board.
You can join us right now, right here.