Facebook Receives Defamation Complaint Over Fact Checks

Self-described award winning journalist and reporter John Stossel has sued Facebook Inc., and French nonprofits Science Feedback and Climate Feedback, organizations the social media platform purportedly contracts with to fact check certain user posts. The Northern District of California complaint alleges that the defendants defamed Stossel by wrongfully censoring two of his videos, causing his online viewership to plunge and him to suffer reputational harm. 

Wednesday’s filing asserts that the re-posted videos featured interviews with experts in the climate change arena. The first video, called “Government Fueled Fires,” reportedly showcased Stossel discussing “the massive forest fires that were ravaging California in 2020, and report[ing] on several reasons cited by politicians, scientists, and environmentalists as the cause of the fires.”

Facebook allegedly flagged the video as having failed a fact check and provided a link to fact checker Climate Feedback’s explanatory “verdict” page. The plaintiff claims that the defendants defamed him by falsely attributing a claim Stossel never made to him on the verdict page. On that basis, the defendants reportedly “flagged the content as ‘misleading’ and ‘missing context,’ so that would-be viewers would be routed to the false attribution statement.” The complaint states that Stossel engaged in lengthy communications with the defendant fact-checker in an attempt to rectify the situation, but to no avail.

The second video, entitled “Are We Doomed?” questioned claims made by “environmental alarmists,” including assertions that “hurricanes are getting stronger, that sea level rise poses a catastrophic threat, and that humans will be unable to cope with the fallout.” To this video, the defendants purportedly affixed “partly false” and “factual inaccuracies” labels. They did so “despite their knowledge that the content contained no false facts,” the complaint argues.

The defendants’ actions amount to defamation because their 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,” the complaint says. The filing states one claim for relief under California law for defamation or libel per se. Stossel asks the court for an order requiring the defendants to remove the flags and labels from his videos, to pay compensatory and punitive damages, and for an award of his attorneys’ fees and costs.

John Stossel is represented by Dhillon Law Group Inc.