Muslim Advocates Fights Back as Facebook Claims to be Above the Law
Washington, DC — On Friday at 11 AM ET, the District of Columbia Superior Court will hold a hearing on Muslim Advocates’ lawsuit to hold Facebook accountable for misleading the public and Congress about the safety of their platform. At the hearing, a judge will hear arguments about Facebook’s attempts to have the lawsuit thrown out—attempts that D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and leading consumer groups warn could exempt Facebook and other large tech companies from consumer protection laws if accepted.
The public and press can attend the hearing virtually through this link.
Top Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, have repeatedly told Congress and the public that Facebook takes down harmful, violent content that violates their rules when they learn of it. As Muslim Advocates and later the general public have learned, this is simply not true. After years of engaging directly with Facebook officials to flag specific anti-Muslim content with no action or follow-through from the company, Muslim Advocates sued Facebook last year for violating the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) by falsely claiming in congressional testimony and other venues that the company removes prohibited content when notified.
Instead of responding to the merits Muslim Advocates’ lawsuit, Facebook is trying to get it thrown out of court by outrageously arguing that the company is immune from consumer protection laws and that the company’s executives are legally allowed to lie to Congress and the public about the safety of their platform. At Friday’s hearing, Muslim Advocates will respond to Facebook’s dangerous claims.
Facebook Claim #1: Because Facebook does not charge users money for its service, Facebook is exempt from D.C.’s consumer protection law.
Our Response: D.C.’s consumer protection law covers any sale, lease or transfer of a good or service, which includes Facebook transferring its services to its users. Additionally, Facebook actually does sell its services by requiring users to give up their data in order to use the platform. By falsely claiming the law doesn’t apply because Facebook technically doesn’t charge users money for its services, the company is effectively arguing that it and many of the largest tech giants with similar business models are exempt from D.C.’s consumer protection law and virtually all other consumer protection laws.
Facebook Claim #2: Facebook and its executives claim they have immunity under the law for their executives’ false statements.
Our Response: Facebook is hiding behind Section 230, a law that grants some immunities to websites that allow user comments. Section 230 shouldn’t bar claims like ours that challenge Facebook executives’ real life statements about their business practices. If Facebook’s warped view of Section 230 is accepted in court, it would create a dangerous immunity for social media executives who make false statements about their businesses—exempting them from a century’s worth of laws designed to protect consumers and investors from deception.
Facebook Claim #3: Muslim Advocates’ lawsuit should be thrown out because it violates D.C.’s Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (Anti-SLAPP) Act.
Our Response: The Anti-SLAPP Act is a law intended to prevent lawsuits from silencing grassroots activism. The law is triggered solely by speech on “issues of public interest,” but it excludes “statements directed primarily toward protecting the speaker’s commercial interests.” Muslim Advocates’ lawsuit is about Facebook’s speech regarding its commercial interests. Further, the Anti-SLAPP Act includes an exemption that excludes commercial speech. It is outrageous that Facebook is trying to turn a law designed to protect the little guy into a shield for a corporate behemoth.
Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.