It’s likely that broadcast news vet and libertarian author John Stossel and his legal team are wondering just how the term “justice” applies to the misfiring system of offices and apparatchiks that just ruled it’s perfectly acceptable for Facebook to tell users one thing about its “Fact Checks,” then completely contradict that position in court.
It has been nearly a year since I reported on the case of Stossel v Meta Platforms et al, and noted that the term “platform” in the new Facebook corporate name was key.
At the time, Mr. Stossel had brought legal action against Facebook and its parent company, Meta, because the site supposedly “fact-checked” two videos he made exposing fantastical and evidence-empty claims of the anthropogenic Climate Change Cult. Facebook’s “check” on one of Stossel’s statements claimed he was offering “misleading” info, and FB reduced its spread and public visibility. But, as Stossel pointed out (he even spoke to one of the FB fact-check team members, who admitted it on camera), this FB claim about his info was in error. Stossel was correct. He called for FB to rectify the situation, and they did not.
Stossel has integrity, and he decided to take action, last year suing Facebook and Meta for defamation.
In response, the court claimed the Facebook/Meta “fact-check” team – on which it relies to block posts, label posts as “False” or “Misleading,” or place “warning” signs over posts – wasn’t really making statements of “fact,” but merely was expressing opinions.
Which makes one wonder. If their “opinions” are “fact-checks,” why can’t we post stories, images, and videos filled with facts, but claim they are merely opinions – thus using Facebook’s tactic.
Stossel would not play such a game.
But, now that the “gears of justice” have ground to their inevitable halt, we can see that the San Jose Division of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California IS willing to play word games, is willing to overlook the clear meaning of defamation, and is willing to overlook the financial damage Facebook’s actions likely had on Stossel’s earnings for his video efforts.
Tuesday, October 11, Judge Virginia DeMarchi, the 2018 appointee for Magistrate of the San Jose U.S. District Court (and a person with powerful former ties to Silicon Valley corporate litigation when she was in private practice), dismissed with prejudice Stossel's suit (meaning he cannot bring it again in that court system, home of Meta), and perversely applied California’s so-called “Anti-SLAPP” statute (SLAPP standing for "Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation"; anti-SLAPP being a block against what defendants might claim is a frivolous attempt to block or intimidate through legal burdens their ability to express opinion/speech).
The latter means that META actually can charge Mr. Stossel for their legal fees.
Here are the basics.
Facebook attached a label of "missing context" to Stossel's September, 2020 release called, "Government Fueled Fires," and the corporation downranked it, resulting in traffic and revenue loss from Stossel's account, which has more than a million followers.
Facebook's "fact-checkers" claimed that the presentation "downplayed" so-called man-made Climate Change as the primary cause of the 2020 California wildfires, and that, instead, Stossel erred by asserting that, although global temp could play a role, the real culprit was poor management of government-run lands.
That was the first video, and it likely will be clear to any viewer that Stossel’s presentation actually DID provide context, while the Meta “fact-check” team wanted to restrict the context and focus on the bogeyman of anthropogenic “Climate Change.”
Then, there was the second Stossel production, which appeared in April, of 2021.
In the video called "Are We Doomed?" Stossel challenged environmental alarmists' claims. But the Meta gang labeled it "partly false information"
Stossel’s suit sought to prove that Meta and the “fact-checker” team in its employ defamed him in the case of the first video by falsely inferring that he made a statement he says he never did, and in the second video, by accusing him of making false statements.
The result, as we noted, was inevitable, but it is noteworthy for many reasons. In her decision, Judge DeMarchi claimed that it was perfectly fine for Meta to call a non-fact-check system a "Fact-Check" system. She said, essentially, Facebook has a right to do it, and their system reflects a:
"...subjective judgment about the accuracy and reliability of assertions made."
In other words, she agrees that Facebook can mislabel its opinion as "fact-checking" -- Facebook/Meta are not obligated to provide facts when "fact-checking."
"Simply because the process by which content is assessed and a label applied is called a ‘fact-check’ does not mean that the assessment itself is an actionable statement of objective fact.”
Welcome to BizarroWorld.
And this is where Meta’s new attachment of the descriptor “Platforms” to its title comes into play.
As I noted in my previous piece about this case, despite the First Amendment prohibiting the feds from messing with the freedom of speech, the Constitution DOES allow the feds to create the court system for interstate suits, on up to the Supreme Court. As a result, it stuffed a mixture of anti-constitutional and constitutional rules into its 1996 Telecommunications Decency Act 47 U.S.C. § 230, commonly known as “Section 230," granting “platforms” that claim to “host” the posts of users the ability to “curate” them and not be sued for defamation should the user post something that could falsely damage the reputation of another. Section 230 also granted these “platforms” immunity from state prosecution should a user post content that might be of a pornographic nature.
BUT, as I noted last year, the almighty feds stipulated that the “curation” must be done “in good faith” – and THAT, also as I noted, and as we see here in this ruling, is left up to the arbitrary whim of the agents of government such as Judge DeMarchi.
We are left staring the bully in the face and seeing him (in this case Facebook AND the US government) smile, knowing that the state has rigged the system.
But it easily could turn the tables and use its arbitrary power against a conservative platform, claiming that an alternative to Twitter such as Gab was not curating “in good faith” what the government saw as “dangerous” or “misleading” content, and then applying federal, FCC fines or even taking Justice Department action to shut them down or break them up.
The problem is not in the battle of ideas. The problem isn’t even in the fact that Meta’s so-called “fact-checkers” are mostly hardcore leftists.
The problem is that Meta isn’t playing fair, that it has repeatedly changed policies, applied policies unevenly based on political content, and, mostly, that politicians have tossed aside the First Amendment, creating a “Federal Communications Commission” that claims for the GOVERNMENT the power to determine how we can communicate over state lines.
This is not what the Founders intended.
In a world where a judge can allow Sandyhook parents to bring a defamation suit against Alex Jones because he, early on, expressed his OPINION that the school shooting appeared, in his words, "synthetic," how is it that another judge of the U.S. system can embrace Facebook's claim that it's "fact" checkers merely are expressing opinion, and, thus, avoid a defamation suit?
Indeed, the court is allowing Facebook/Meta the opportunity to pull the now well-known “Humpty Dumpty” defense.
When Lewis Carrol’s Alice (“Through the Looking Glass”) met the pompous avatar for statism sitting on his wall, she noted that he wasn’t using the word “glory” correctly.
Ahh, but Humpty didn’t need to operate by truth. He was, of course, emblematic of the government.
"’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master-that's all.’"
It seems as if Judge DeMarchi wants us to think that she and Meta are our masters.
And it would be nice to separate from their “wonderland.”