Former TV journalist John Stossel is demanding at least $2 million in damages from Facebook in a lawsuit he filed against the social media giant, alleging the company defamed him by appending fact-checking labels to two videos he posted about climate change.
In a statement to Variety, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We believe this case is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously against the allegations.”
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According to Stossel’s lawsuit, in the past year he posted two short video reports on Facebook in which he “interviewed experts in the climate change arena.”
In one video, “Government Fueled Fires,” about the 2020 wildfires in California, Facebook and its fact-checking partners “falsely attributed to Stossel a claim he never made, and on that basis flagged the content as ‘misleading’ and ‘missing context,’ so that would-be viewers would be routed to the false attribution statement.” The complaint says that Stossel’s video “explored a scientific hypothesis” that “while climate change undoubtedly contributes to forest fires, it was not the primary cause of the 2020 California fires.” Per the suit, Stossel says he never made the claim that “Forest fires are caused by poor management. Not by climate change,” which was in Facebook’s fact-check.
On the second video, “Are We Doomed?”, Facebook added a “partly false”/“factual inaccuracies” label. That video questioned claims made by those Stossel refers to as “environmental alarmists,” including “claims that hurricanes are getting stronger, that sea level rise poses a catastrophic threat, and that humans will be unable to cope with the fallout.” Stossel claims the Facebook fact-check didn’t actually challenge any facts in the video, and he argues that the company’s fact-check process “is nothing more than a pretext… to defame users with impunity, particularly when Defendants disagree with the scientific opinions expressed in user content.”
The lawsuit alleges that “Stossel was given no meaningful avenue to contest these unilateral decisions about the truth of his journalism. Meanwhile, his viewership plummeted due to both Facebook’s censorship and the reputational harm caused by the false labels.”
Stossel, who worked at ABC News for more than 25 years before hosting a weekly news show on Fox Business, claims that after Facebook added the fact-checking label to his “Alarmism Video” in April 2021, ad revenue generated by his videos dropped almost in half, from approximately $10,000 per month to $5,500 per month.
Stossel’s lawsuit seeks “general, special and compensatory damages” of at least $1 million and exemplary and punitive damages of at least $1 million.
Also named in Stossel’s complaint as defendants are two fact-checking organizations, Science Feedback and Climate Feedback. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose. A copy of the complaint is available at this link.
In a previous response posted by Climate Feedback to Stossel’s charges about the fact-check rating on the “Government Fueled Fires” video, the organization wrote, “Stossel complains that we should not have rated his post using a claim review of a quote that does not appear in his video. This is a misunderstanding of how fact-checking partners operate on Facebook. Given that many pieces of content posted on Facebook can separately make the same claim, it is not necessary to create a separate claim review article for each post we rate. It is, of course, necessary that the claim we reviewed is representative of the claim in each post we rate, which is true in this case.”
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