Children’s Health Defense (CHD), a non-profit organization founded by anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., filed a complaint on Monday in the Northern District of California against Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as well as its fact-checking partners, including Science Feedback, Poynter Institute, and PolitiFact for rejecting its advertisements and for censoring its posts by labeling disproven claims about vaccines and 5G networks.
Facebook took a concerted effort to combat vaccine misinformation by directing users to authoritative vaccine information, by cracking down on advertisements, fact-checking information and promising it would stop recommending anti-vaccine pages, including the plaintiff’s page. Specifically, on the CHD’s page, Facebook added a label stating, “this page posts about vaccines,” and a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website. Facebook also prevented the group’s ability to fundraise by deactivating its donate button and barred the group’s ad agency from purchasing online ads. Additionally, instead of being able to preview the content normally, Facebook added a gray overlay warning that stated, “False Information Checked by Independent fact-checkers,” which “has the intended effect of reducing both click-throughs to the underlying content and shares. The net effect is to drastically reduce by 95% the traffic to Children’s Health Defense website.”
CHD averred that this created a “falsely disparaging” impression of the non-profit as “not reliable” by promoting bogus scientific claims or pseudoscience. Moreover, Facebook and its fact-checkers allegedly created the “false and misleading appearance” that CHD violated Facebook’s terms of service by publishing its vaccine and 5G network safety content.
The plaintiff also proffered that Facebook is a government actor that should not have the power to limit users’ speech after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) urged Facebook to fight this misinformation last year. The lawsuit challenged Facebook’s alleged censorship of the organization’s posts and information, including Facebook’s supposed coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC.
CHD asserted that having a variety of medical information is especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plaintiff added that Facebook collaborated with the WHO “to suppress vaccine safety speech with a ‘warning label’ and other notices that appear to flag disinformation, but in reality censor valid and truthful speech, including speech critical of those agencies and their policies.”
The suit comes after President Trump’s executive order on Section 230 and Facebook and other social media platforms have been accused of moderating content in violation of the First Amendment. Facebook was also recently sued for putting a “Russia state-controlled media” label on Maffick’s social media pages.
CHD claimed that Facebook’s alleged conduct violated the First and Fifth Amendments, the Lanham Act and RICO for wire fraud violations.
Children’s Health Defense has sought an award for compensatory, punitive damages and treble damages, injunctive and declaratory relief, an award for costs and fees, for the defendants to make a public retraction of their false statements, and other relief.