Facebook Claims In Legal Documents That Their 'Fact-Checks' Are 'Protected Opinion'

P. Gardner Goldsmith | December 13, 2021
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Among the myriad frustrating things Facebook (now known as Meta Platforms, Inc.) does – especially, it seems, to people who believe in liberty, or, at least, are critical of big government – is to restrict the reach of our posts for long stretches, or label “false” and then “memory-hole” our posts when its team of “fact-checkers” claim that something is untrue.

For some of us, we just grimace and bear it, trying to figure out ways to stay in touch with friends and to continue getting our posts seen, despite Facebook’s Wizards of Ugh telling us that our reach will be limited. Curiously, this just happened to me – TODAY – and I’ll be “restricted” even more than previously, for the next three months.

But, thanks to a man who is not sitting back and taking it, I just learned something striking about Facebook/Meta’s view of its “Fact Checks”…

In legal documents provided in a defamation suit brought by pro-liberty reporter John Stossel against Facebook/Meta, Meta’s legal team openly claims that their “Fact Checks” merely are “opinion.”

The American Thinker’s Thomas Lifson starts things off for us, and as we dive in, let’s keep in mind the slippery way Meta includes the word “Platform” in its corporate name:

In a court filing responding to a lawsuit filed by John Stossel claiming that he was defamed by a ‘fact check’ Facebook used to label a video by him as ‘misleading,’ Meta's attorneys assert that the ‘fact check’ was an ‘opinion,’ not an actual check of facts and declaration of facts. Under libel law, opinions are protected from liability for libel.

What a surprise. But this makes matters very complicated for Meta, and we’ll explore why, in a moment.

For now, let’s note that many fans of Mr. Stossel might be familiar with his excellent work (he even has created a video and instruction series called “Stossel in The Classroom” for kids, be they in public schools, private schools, or at home). And let’s assume that they might have heard that Stossel was suing Facebook/Meta Platforms for defamation.

It’s the details that hint at how politically driven the “Meta” gurus appear to be --and how slippery their legal team seems to be -- as they try to wriggle out of what looks like a clear case of defamation by now claiming something completely opposite to what they’ve told all us users for years: that they are “fact-checking” our posts on “controversial” topics.

Lifson refers readers to the well-known climate science writer Anthony Watts, who writes at WattsUpWithThat, and Watts saliently points out that key claim by the Meta lawyers in their legal filing:

The labels themselves are neither false nor defamatory; to the contrary, they constitute protected opinion.

And then Watts offers a longer passage from the Meta document:

And Watts also offers what many of us might, upon seeing this flagrantly obvious rhetorical chess move:

So, in a court of law, in a legal filing, Facebook admits that its ‘fact checks’ are not really ‘fact’ checks at all, but merely ‘opinion assertions.’

But, of course, that’s not what they tell us. That’s not what they told me when they non-personed me today.

Related: National School Boards Assoc. Labels Concerned Parents 'Domestic Terror' Threats | MRCTV

No, in fact, Fact-bonk has long heralded its “Fact-Checker” system, even as we users could see the leftist slant that indicated to us there was something fishy going on. They applauded themselves for employing groups like The Poynter Institute to put our posts under their “Fact-Check” microscopes, yet, as John Stossel recently noted in one of his excellent videos on the subject, like all human organizations, Poynter’s team has subjective people in it, and it doesn’t exactly seem non-biased:

To do the ‘fact-checking,’ Facebook partners with groups like these (Fake.org, FullFact, more, seen in his video graphic) all of them approved by something called the Poynter Institute. It calls itself a ‘global leader in journalism’ that claims it has ‘a commitment to non-partisanship and fairness.’ But they’re hardly non-partisan. Just look at their website. Their eagerness to honor left-leaning reporters (such as Leslie Stahl and Katie Couric), and their push to ‘decolonize the media’ and change language shows their leftist bias. Poynter once even apologized after it tried to blacklist conservative news sites.

Remember that?

Corrine Weaver wrote about it for NewsBusters on May 2, 2019, including the fact that, in that particular smear attack, Poynter utilized an asset at the ultra-left “Southern Poverty Law Center” to construct its unhinged narrative:

Poynter, which has started the International Fact-Checking Network, shared the new report and dataset called 'UnNews,' declaring at least 29 right-leaning news outlets and organizations to be “unreliable news websites.”

Report author and SPLC producer Barrett Golding combined five major lists of websites marked “unreliable.” That result, which consisted of 515 names, included many prominent conservative sites — Breitbart, CNSNews.com, Daily Signal, Daily Wire, Drudge Report, Free Beacon, Judicial Watch, LifeNews, LifeSiteNews, LifeZette, LiveAction News, the Media Research Center, PJ Media, Project Veritas, Red State, The Blaze, Twitchy, and the Washington Examiner.

Ahh, yes. Good times, good times…

At American Thinker, Lifson notes about this new revelation from the Stossel defamation suit against Meta:

Meta's attorneys come from the white shoe law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dore, with over a thousand attorneys and more than a billion dollars a year in revenue.  They obviously checked out the implications of the matter for Section 230 issues, the legal protection Facebook/Meta have from liability for what is posted on their site.  But at a minimum, this is a public relations disaster, revealing that their ‘fact checks’ are not factual at all and should be labeled as ‘our opinion’ or some such language avoiding the word ‘fact.’

And by Section 230, of course, Lifson means 47 U.S.C. § 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which allows a website carrying other people’s posts to claim it is not a “publisher” but a “platform,” not if it doesn’t edit content – many people mistakenly think a platform can’t “edit,” but if it edits (or “curates”) “in good faith” (a term determined by the federal government, of course).

If it remains listed as a “platform” (hence the addition of “Platform” within Meta’s snazzy corporate title), the feds in the 1996 law allow the corporation protection against defamation suits over material posted by users, and the feds also allow the corporations to be mostly immune from state laws pertaining to pornography posted by users.

And now, Stossel’s team may be able to pierce the federal "protection" given to "platforms" by the unctuous Section 230. Facebook certainly doesn't seem to be operating on "good faith."

And, on a larger point, all of the federal meddling within the 1996 Communications Decency Act, and even the FCC itself, run counter to the First Amendment, which gives the feds utterly zero power over speech controls, so perhaps this suit will open a few eyes.

John Stossel and his team are going after Facebook/Meta for defamation, and many of us have experienced similar attacks when posting clearly factual information.

Now, thanks to Stossel, in the legal response to his suit, Meta just showed the world that it isn’t “fact-checking” at all.

It is doing what we thought: engaging in opinion propaganda.

Related: National School Boards Assoc Recants Claim That Concerned Parents Are 'Terrorist Threats' | MRCTV