Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has taken legal action against Facebook for what it claims are “deceptive commercial practices” related to the proliferation of disinformation, fake news and hate speech on its platform.
The lawsuit was filed with the public prosecutor in Paris, France on 22 March 2021.
.@RSF_inter has filed a lawsuit against Facebook for deceptive commercial practices as its promises to provide a “safe and error-free” online environment are contradicted by the large-scale proliferation of hate speech & false information on its networks. https://t.co/eO0aFz6Xiv
— Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent) March 23, 2021
Comprising of expert analysis, statements, and personal testimony from ex-Facebook staff, the lawsuit seeks to show that the social media giant is dishonest to its users and allows hate speech and fake news to flourish on the network.
A statement from RSF publicising the news adds that this hatred is also directed against journalists. This, they argue goes against the claims that Facebook makes in its terms of service and through adverts.
The lawsuit was filed in France due to “especially well suited” consumer laws and also due to the fact there are some 38 million users in the country.
As per Articles L121-2 to L121-5 of the French consumer code, a practice is deemed deceptive if it is “based on false claims, statements, or representations or is likely to mislead”. If Facebook loses the suit, they are liable to pay a fine of up to 10% of their annual turnover.
Facebook’s terms of service state that it will undertake “professional diligence in providing a safe, secure, and error-free environment” and that users cannot share anything that is “unlawful, misleading, discriminatory or fraudulent.
Additionally, in its Community Standards, the company pledges to significantly reduce the distribution of fake news and disinformation. This was reinforced via an advert published in the French media at the start of 2021. The company claimed they would offer “precise information in real time to better combat the pandemic.”
RSF said that as the company’s terms of service are the same globally, a ruling in France could have a global impact. Even so, the media freedom organisation said they are considering filing similar suits in other countries.
The issue is that Facebook has allegedly not been living up to these pledges.
According to various reports presented by RSF, Facebook posts linking to fake news and “deceptive sites” had at least 1.2 billion interactions in Q4 2020. In the same year, UNESCO published a report calling Facebook the “least safe” social media platform. This was supported with additional reports that identified the network as a “hub of vaccine conspiracy theories”.
In terms of the way the platform is weaponised against media workers, RSF highlighted messages and threats against French journalists for the Quotidien program, regions newspaper L’Union, and threats and calls for violence against Charlie Hebdo and its journalists.
RSF also presented a number of legal reports on the significant amount of COVID-19 disinformation available on the platform that has not been flagged as fake news. Videos, links, articles, and posts amassed millions of views, despite containing disinformation.
In 2018, The Shift News revealed how Facebook groups were being used in Malta to stir up hatred, coordinate harassment and attacks, and even share the personal information of journalists and activists.
This is the second lawsuit RSF has filed in recent weeks. At the beginning of March, they filed a “historic” complaint with German prosecutors against Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and other Saudi officials regarding the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the persecution of many others.
The organisation said the Saudi State is responsible for crimes against humanity and has been directly involved in the widespread and systematic persecution of journalists, as well as the assassination of Khashoggi.