Journalist’s Defamation Claim Against Meta Platforms and Fact-Checking Contractor Tossed for Good

On Tuesday, the Northern District of California rendered an opinion in a defamation case brought by career journalist John Stossel against Meta Platforms and a French fact-checking contractor it hires to review content posted to Facebook, Science Feedback.

The 20-page opinion found that the statements Stossel took issue with, posted to two videos concerning California wildfires and climate change, were non-actionable. Further, Magistrate Judge Virginia K. DeMarchi dismissed the suit with prejudice after finding that amendment would be futile.

As previously reported, Stossel sued Meta and Science Feedback after they flagged his videos, reportedly resulting in reduced distribution of his reporting, viewership, and profits from advertising revenue, as well as reputational harm.

Specifically, Stossel claimed that Meta and Science Feedback defamed him by flagging a video posted about the 2020 California wildfires as being misleading and having missing context. In a second video discussing claims made by “environmental alarmists” about the impending threat of climate change to human existence, Stossel took issue with Meta’s “partly false” and “factual inaccuracies” labels.

The court weighed the parties’ arguments as to whether the claimed defamatory statements were constitutionally-protected statements of subjective opinion, viewpoint, and interpretation, or unprotected false statements or implied assertions of objective fact. Judge DeMarchi sided with the defendants in finding that “the challenged statements cannot reasonably be understood to declare or imply provable assertions of fact.”

Concerning the second video, the defendants’ critique “reflects a subjective assessment of the contents of the video and is not capable of being proved true or false,” the opinion said.

As a secondary holding, Judge DeMarchi found that the statements qualify as protected activity for purposes of California’s anti-SLAPP statute as they arise from each defendant’s protected activity concerning matters of public interest. Lastly, the opinion said that “amendment of the pleadings would be futile because no additional allegations could alter the nature of the underlying statements challenged as defamatory.”

John Stossel is represented by Dhillon Law Group Inc., Meta Platforms by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and Science Feedback by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.