The non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders has sued Facebook on the grounds that the organization failed to live up to promises to create a “safe and error-free” environment.
A court filing from the organization says that Facebook is guilty of “deceptive commercial practices.” The company promises to deliver a “safe, secure, and error-free environment” in the Terms of Service, promising an environment where users can’t “share anything (…) that is unlawful, misleading, discriminatory, or fraudulent.”
Reporters Without Borders says the reality is different, alleging that “[Facebook] allows disinformation and hate speech to flourish on its network – hatred in general and hatred against journalists – contrary to the claims made in its terms of service and through its ads.”
Reporters Without Borders filed the suit in France, naming the Irish and French divisions of Facebook. European Union law states a business may be sued if it violates the Consumer Code that protects consumers from companies conducting “deceptive business practices.”
It’s unlikely that Facebook will have to make any long-term changes due to the suit, but this kind of offense is punishable by up to two years imprisonment and fines of up to €300,000 ($356,000). The penalty is increased to up to 10% of the average annual turnover for large companies. Given that Facebook made $86bn in 2020, the fine could be up to $8.6bn.
The lawsuit cites several research pieces that underscore how Facebook failed to prevent misinformation and how this failure has affected EU users – and that this is a deceptive practice.
For example, one report recently named Facebook as the “hub of vaccine conspiracy theories” for French-speaking communities by non-profit anti-disinformation group First Draft. The lawsuit also cites a report that details billions of interactions with deceptive sites happening on the platform.
Facebook has announced several policies to tackle misinformation, banning some movements known for spreading misinformation. However, recent reports suggest that these measures aren’t working.
One such report comes from Avaaz, which found that hundreds of groups on the platforms glorified violence during the 2020 presidential election and in the weeks leading up to the Capitol riots. The report found 267 groups and pages, most of which were connected to boogaloo, QAnon, and other militia movements, which are supposed to be banned outright on the platform.
This new lawsuit marks the latest stumbling block for Facebook, which has been hit with several lawsuits in recent months. The company is facing Australian courts to force the company to pay publishers, a case in Belgium over privacy violations, and a slew of lawsuits in the United States.