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Holding Big Tech Accountable for Lies

Many Americans rightly worry that Big Tech platforms exert a corrosive effect upon free speech in America. These platforms often “put their thumb on the scale” by determining which content get boosted or suppressed. Through these hidden methods, they effectively control dialogue in the digital public square.

At times, this dialogue descends into vicious lies, creating a toxic online culture that causes real, tangible harm to individuals and also proves destructive for society as a whole. Centuries ago, satirist writer Jonathon Swift coined the phrase that is now widely attributed to Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can put its shoes on.”

That observation about human nature has long been accurate, but even more so in an internet age where a few dominant oligopoly online behemoths shape speech and content in powerful and pernicious ways.

Specifically, the Facebook groups known as “Are We Dating the Same Guy?” have become, in part, forums to spread defamatory lies about men. No one denies that women (and men) have every First Amendment right to voice strong opinions about dates and romantic partners. In fact, their right to express harsh opinions is totally protected and necessary in a society that values free speech.

But no one is entitled to spread harmful lies without repercussions, especially when those falsehoods do real damage to others. Moreover, tech giants should not be able to hide behind broad immunity statutes that obscure the actual, active participation of Facebook and other platforms in promoting and profiting from malicious lies.

The developing class action suit I have filed against the parent companies of Facebook and Instagram, Meta, seeks the truth about exactly how these platforms boost harmful content for money and why they must be held accountable when they act more like publishers than like neutral forums.

For instance, my lead client, Nikko D’Ambrosio, was subjected to harsh lies about him in Facebook groups with millions of members worldwide. These lies about him—including the ridiculous smear that he is a rapist—were boosted to the top of these popular groups. Such smears can lead to real harm, including lost jobs, destroyed marriages, and ruined reputations.

Our suit demands accountability from these platforms that profit from these lies and stubbornly refuse to recognize the emotional and financial injuries they inflict upon innocent individuals who are mostly powerless to fight back. First, the victims of online smear campaigns are not allowed onto these groups to defend themselves. So, this situation is not like a bad Yelp review for a business, where the business operator can log in and argue against the aspersions.

Second, the victims of these platforms are not all random men acting like jerks. They are your sons, your grandchildren, and your brothers—often subjected to vitriolic, anonymous online lies that are actively promoted by Facebook. In fact, thousands of frustrated men have contacted me, explaining that they have been accused of horrible acts and even crimes merely because they went out on a date that didn’t have a spark.

Even more importantly, Big Tech uses these false accusations for their own profit. Companies like Meta hide behind Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which grants broad immunity to online companies so long as they serve as neutral parties rather than content creators. The outdated law made some sense three decades ago, when the internet was in its infancy, and Congress sought to limit the liability of basement-based internet startups hosting online chat rooms and community forums.

After all, we do not hold AT&T accountable for two people having a private conversation over AT&T mobile lines, even if that conversation includes slanderous lies. But today, in the age of sophisticated algorithms powered by “black box” artificial intelligence, social media companies have forfeited and weaponized their allegedly “neutral” status to create software that collects your private information and builds sophisticated consumer profiles on you. These profiles include information on your family and even children, all created to maximize advertising revenue.

Consequently, these tech titans obtain vast fortunes while hiding behind bogus Section 230 claims of neutrality. In reality, companies like Meta actively censor and suppress some content with impunity, especially political speech they deem unworthy. Simultaneously, they amplify scurrilous content to generate the most clicks for the most profit.

In this regard, companies like Facebook are not remotely neutral, like AT&T is in the phone example. Rather, these companies dive deep into the business of not just facilitating defamation but also broadcasting it.

Facebook’s algorithm chooses, based on the data they collect about you, what content will be displayed to you. The most inflammatory content reaches the top of your social media feed first.

Why?

Because Facebook knows that the strongest emotional attachments derive from inflammatory content that attacks, defames, or belittles. Through these methods, Facebook hooks unwitting users into prolonged “doom scrolling.”

It’s time to hold these conglomerates accountable. So far, Meta shows indications that they take our suit very seriously by hiring a former judge to serve as their counsel on the case, in addition to one of the largest law firms in America. But neither my clients nor I will back down in this David vs. Goliath legal battle against malicious lies.

Marc Trent is a Chicago attorney and lead partner of the Trent Law Firm

 

 

 

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Notable Replies

  1. Avatar for task task says:

    Keep us informed and in the loop because one thing we all understand is that the big tech companies place their forearm on the scale and they have not been held accountable. Victims have to dig into their own pockets where their resources are limited to go into protracted legal battle with Goliaths well funded by the profits they make from the dissemination of falsehoods and lies.

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