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Did Candace Owens Win a Huge Lawsuit Against Facebook Fact-Checkers?

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Candace Owens won a huge lawsuit against Facebook fact-checkers.

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A November 29 2020 TheScoop.us item bearing the headline “Candace Owens Wins Huge Lawsuit Against Biased Liberal Facebook Fact-Checkers” made a titular claim that Owens successfully sued Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers, although the ensuing content used slightly less clickbaiting language:

Conservative author and commentator, Candace Owens, recently delivered a major blow to “fact-checkers” claiming to be independent.

The political activist challenged and won against Facebook fact-checker, Politifact, for tagging her post as “false” and effectively censoring it from the social media platform.

TheScoop.us referenced a November 28 2020 tweet by Owens, which referenced her quibble with third-party fact-checking site PolitiFact:

Owens did say she “got lawyers involved,” which she claimed led to a flag being removed from the post. However, Owens’ statement said nothing beyond the fact that lawyers were “involved” on her behalf, and no reading of the tweet would indicate she “won a huge lawsuit.”

In a subsequent tweet, Owens claimed she was “taking every measure to fight these communists in the court room,” adding that it was her goal “to expose these lying ‘fact-checkers’ one by one”:

Later on the page, TheScoop.us retreated even further from the claims made in the headline, indicating that Owens “reportedly retained a pair of lawyers to represent her in the lawsuit including Atty. Todd McMurthy,” obfuscating whether Owens intended to file suit against Facebook, its third-party fact-checkers, or both.

Nearly all of the content of TheScoop.us article appeared to originate with Owens’ two tweets embedded above, possibly accounting for the thin nature of the claims (which in no way supported the headline). The site went on to say that Owens “launched” a new website called FactCheckZuck.com, which WHOIS data shows was registered on October 20 2020.

Owens’ tweets didn’t make it immediately clear when Facebook’s algorithms flagged the offending post with a fact-check, and she described the incident as having taken place “weeks ago.” However, she did reiterate that U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden was “NOT the President-Elect,” heavily suggesting whatever post she referenced was both shared and flagged on or after the November 3 2020 election.

Owens further stated that she “launched” FactCheckZuck.com as a part of her efforts to hold Facebook and its third-party fact-checkers to task, for being, in her words, “communists.” Although it would stand to reason that Owens’ “Joe Biden is NOT the President-Elect” post inspired her purported legal maneuvers against Facebook and/or its fact-checking partners, the site was registered fifteen days before the election.

On November 25 2020, PolitiFact addressed Owens’ request for review in a Facebook post, issuing a correction:

Correction: PolitiFact originally labeled this video false in our capacity as a third-party fact-checker for Facebook. On Nov. 20, an appeal to that decision was made on behalf of Ms. Owens. PolitiFact approved the appeal on Nov. 20, determined that a correction was appropriate, and removed the false rating.

PolitiFact’s post included a video from Owens, which she shared on November 12 2020. In a caption, Owens wrote:

Joe Biden is literally and legally not the President-elect. So why is the media pretending he is?

November 12 2020 was 24 days after the October 20 2020 creation of Owens’ site. Visitors to FactCheckZuck.com were led directly to a donations beg, with a header reading “Candace vs. Zuck.” Text directly underneath the image and above credit card information fields stated:

Time to Fact-check his fact-checkers Our freedoms are being stripped away. The overlords of Big Tech are determining what Americans can and cannot say, share, like, and post. Support our legal efforts today as we fight back against Facebook’s fact-checkers, confronting those who are suppressing free speech, thought, and expression across our great country.

Tiny text at the bottom of the page indicated some of the funds donated would go to Owens’ legal fees — but not all:

All donations made will be directed to an account established and controlled by Candace Owens LLC, the lead plaintiff in Case No. S20C-10-016 CAK in the Court of Delaware. A portion of the total funds raised will be used to cover legal costs incurred by Candace Owens LLC in relation to the aforementioned case. All excess funds will be used for other purposes by the LLC. No goods or services will be received in exchange for donations. Donations received are not tax-deductible. This website and all associated designs and fees paid for by Candace Owens LLC. By providing your information, you agree to receive communications, including automated calls and texts, from Candace Owens LLC and related groups.

Delaware’s online court system returned an existing docket, S20C-10-016, filed on October 19 2020 and listing Owens as the individual plaintiff, alongside Candace Owens LLC. Reason.com uploaded a copy of the document filed [PDF], identifying two defendants — LeadStories.com, and USA Today. PolitiFact, the target for Owens’ announcement, was not named as a defendant.

In the 52-page document’s “Introduction,” Owens began with four initial grievances aimed at LeadStories.com and USA Today, accusing the two fact-checking entities of redirecting her social media traffic to their sites “to increase their number of clicks and advertising revenue by commandeering Plaintiffs’ large Facebook following, enhance their status on the internet, and enhance their relationship with Facebook as Third-Party Fact-Checking partners”:

1. This action arises from the Defendants’ malicious publication of false “fact check” articles charging Plaintiffs with spreading misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic on the internet in “an attempt to downplay the severity” of the pandemic.

2. The Defendants wrongfully leveraged their power as Facebook ThirdParty Fact-Checking partners to place false or misleading information warning labels on Plaintiffs’ posts for the purpose of redirecting web traffic away from Plaintiffs and directing it to their respective websites. By such a scheme, the Defendants sought to increase their number of clicks and advertising revenue by commandeering Plaintiffs’ large Facebook following, enhance their status on the internet, and enhance their relationship with Facebook as Third-Party Fact-Checking partners.

3. The content published by Plaintiffs, alleged below, is not “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable” within the meaning of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“Section 230”), and the Defendants and Facebook did not censor Plaintiffs’ content in good faith.

4. Defendants’ Third-Party Fact-Checking agreement with Facebook is void against public policy because it allows Defendants to censor speech that does not fall within the specific categories of content enumerated in Section 230.

Points ten through twelve under “Parties” described Owens for the purposes of the filing:

10. In 2019, Candace married George Farmer, the son of a British Conservative Party peer Lord Michael Farmer, and their wedding was held at the Trump Winery in Virginia and attended by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage.

11. Candace has her own podcast program called “The Candace Owens Show” on PragerU, a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is “[t]o promote what is true, what is excellent, and what is noble through digital media.”2

12. Candace is a prominent social media star. She maintains, through her company, Candace Owens, LLC, a popular Facebook page, which has well over 4 million active followers (the “Facebook Page”).

In point 16, Owens accuses Facebook employees of labeling her a “Hate Agent”:

16. But [Owens’] popularity does not come without opposition. Facebook employees, motivated by hostility towards Candace’s conservative political viewpoint and open support of President Trump, have maliciously and falsely labeled her a “Hate Agent” and actively attempt to limit her use of Facebook’s platform.

Points 25 through 28 had to do with Owens’ allegations of lost revenue:

25. Candace Owens, LLC derives significant revenue from its posts on various social media websites, including Facebook, through advertising.

26. Candace Owens, LLC has a contract with Facebook that allows Candace Owens, LLC to publish content on Facebook. In return, the contract provides that Candace Owens, LLC will be compensated by Facebook and its network of advertisers.

27. On June 22, 2020, Facebook demonetized Candace Owens, LLC, suspending its ability to derive revenue from Facebook.

28. As a proximate consequence of Defendants’ actions as alleged herein, and to the date of filing this Complaint, Candace Owens, LLC remains demonetized and unable to derive revenue from Facebook.

According to the filing, Owens’ posts included a widely and frequently-debunked lie about a governmental conspiracy to falsely “inflate” the COVID-19 death count:

53. On March 29, 2020, Candace published a post via her Facebook Page that outlined facts and her opinion surrounding the method U.S. government officials were using to count the Covid-19 pandemic death toll (the “First Facebook Post”). Mirroring an argument that has been made in numerous publications by numerous commentators and expert analysts, Candace’s First Facebook Post argued that government measures of cause-of-death overstated the extent and danger of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Important information for everyone to know about #coronavirus. Obesity is the number 1 killer in America. Right now, they are giving everyone who dies a Covid-19 lab test. If people die from heart disease, but were asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19, their deaths are counted toward the total. Same with other viruses an[d] illnesses. I am an asthmatic. If I die from an asthma attack today, and it is determined that I have Covid-19 in my system at the time of death, my death counts as “complications from coronavirus,” even if I never had any symptoms. They are trying desperately to get the numbers they need to justify this pandemic response.

[…]

Below is an article that explains how they are manipulating deaths. I spent all day today trying to look up daily death rates for any other diseases. You can’t get it anywhere. They are reporting ONLY on coronavirus deaths. I suspect if we begin to demand the daily death toll numbers for heart disease, we will observe a deep decline. I am most interested in NYC overall deaths for this past month (Not just from Covid-19). If anyone knows where we can get this information, please let me know. They seem to be locking it down. If they can tell us how many people are dying from coronavirus daily— why can’t they tell us how many people are dying otherwise?

Point 54 in Owens’ document asserts that “Candace’s First Facebook Post is true or substantially true,” a claim which, again, has repeatedly been examined and found to be false. Owens identifies a “second Facebook post,” which once again peddled false and dangerous health information in the midst of a pandemic:

61. On April 28, 2020, Candace published a post via her Facebook Page that questioned the relationship between and the counting of flu deaths and Covid19 deaths in early 2020 (the “Second Facebook Post”). The Second Facebook Post stated:

According to CDC reports—2020 is working out to be the lowest flu death season of the decade. 20,000 flu deaths took place before Covid-19 in January, and then only 4,000 deaths thereafter. To give you context: 80,000 Americans died of the flu in 2019.

The Second Facebook Post incorporated the text of a tweet published by Candace on her Twitter account that stated:

Possibly the greatest trade deal ever inked was between the flu virus and #coronavirus. So glad nobody is dying of the flu anymore, and therefore the CDC has abruptly decided to stop calculating flu deaths altogether. Agreements between viruses are the way of the future!

Of this post, Owens contends that “reasonable” readers recognized that it was not a statement of fact:

62. The Second Facebook Post communicates Candace’s opinion and was not interpreted by reasonable readers to convey actual statements of fact. To the extent that readers read the Second Facebook Post to convey statements of fact, those statements are true or substantially true.

63. Candace’s Second Facebook Post utilizes hyperbolic sarcasm—a literary technique—to pointedly highlight and question how immense public attention was being given to the Covid-19 pandemic and very little attention being given to regular flu deaths in early 2020.

In point 66, Owens objected to USA Today‘s fact-checking of her post, based solely on her claim that no reader could possibly mistake the claim for factual information due to her use of “literary technique.”  Owens then claims the outlet fact-checked her claim for the sole purpose of diverting traffic to their site:

66. As alleged later in this Complaint, USA TODAY published an article “fact checking” the Second Facebook Post. USA TODAY should have known, like any reasonable reader would know, that Candace’s Second Facebook Post was not capable of being fact checked because the post was merely being sarcastic about the difference between flu deaths and Covid-19 deaths.

[…]

68. Candace’s Second Facebook Post was “fact checked” by USA TODAY because it desired to publish its own weblink on her Second Facebook Post, hijacking her large following to obtain clicks and views on USA TODAY’s own article.

Owens subsequently identified “SPECIFIC FALSE STATEMENTS IN LEAD STORIES’ APRIL 1 [2020] ARTICLE” in a table:

Statement 1 “The [false] claims [about the Covid-19 death counting method] originated in a post … published on Facebook by Candace Owens on March 29, 2020.”

Statement 2 “[Owens’ First Facebook Post] is being shared to suggest that medical officials are – in Owens’ words – ‘trying desperately to get the numbers to justify this pandemic response.’ This comment is an attempt to downplay the severity of a global infectious disease that has killed more than 42,000 people as of March 31, 2020.”

Statement 3 There are several inaccuracies in Owens’ [First Facebook Post].”

Statements one and two appeared to be supported by Owens’ own description of the “first Facebook post” in her own lawsuit — namely that it was published by Owens on March 29 2020, and that Owens claimed that the government was “trying desperately to get the numbers to justify this pandemic response.”

In points 95 through 98, Owens accused LeadStories.com and USA Today of causing her page to be demonetized, a decision made by Facebook (not either publishing entity named in the suit); in point 110 she accuses LeadStories.com of personally disliking her as a person:

95. In May 2020, Facebook emailed Plaintiffs to inform them that Plaintiffs’ account and Facebook Page were at risk of being suspended or outright eliminated from the Plaintiffs’ contract with Facebook for purportedly spreading misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic in its Facebook Post.

96. But for the Defendants’ articles, Plaintiffs would not have received Facebook’s threat to ban its account and break its contract. Upon information and belief, the Defendants’ articles were a substantial factor in Facebook’s decision to threaten Plaintiffs with suspension and demonetization.

97. Shortly after emailing its threat, Facebook demonetized Candace Owens’ Facebook Page, banning Plaintiffs from deriving revenue from her presence on Facebook.

98. But for Defendants’ articles, Plaintiffs would not have been demonetized by Facebook and would not have lost substantial revenue. Defendants’ articles were a substantial factor in Facebook’s decision to demonetize Plaintiffs and suspend them from deriving revenue from Facebook.

[…]

119. Lead Stories—and its reporter Ryan Cooper—do not like Candace, her political viewpoint, or her support for President Trump.

Owens further claims LeadStories.com curated posts specifically in order to adversely affect her book sales:

134. In fact, Lead Stories knew or should have known, through the cover photo and profile picture of Candace Owens’ Facebook account, that Candace was advertising and encouraging pre-orders of her new book, “Blackout.” A copy of 43 this cover photo describing the presale, which is immediately viewable to all who access Plaintiffs’ Facebook Page, is depicted below[.]

135. Plaintiffs’ Facebook Page contains a large, blue “Shop Now” button that would allow viewers to immediately navigate to www.simonandschuster.com, where viewers could pre-order Candace’s new book.

Finally, Owens demands $50,000,000 in damages for “reputational harm” based on the April 1 2020 LeadStories.com fact-check:

169. Candace has suffered significant reputational harm and humiliation as a result of Lead Stories’ April 1 Article. She demands $50,000,000 in damages for reputational harm.

170. Even though the April 1 [2020] Article was defamatory per se and is actionable irrespective of allegations of special harm, but for Lead Stories’ Article, Plaintiffs would not have suffered significant pecuniary damages from Facebook’s demonetization of Plaintiffs.

In short, TheScoop.us falsely claimed Candace Owens won a “huge lawsuit” against Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers, in a post headlined, “Candace Owens Wins Huge Lawsuit Against Biased Liberal Facebook Fact-Checkers.” Owens targeted PolitiFact in her promotion of her website FactCheckZuck.com, which she registered on October 20 2020. One day prior, on October 19 2020, Owens filed suit against LeadStories.com and USA Today, portions of which are quoted above, but has yet to “win” in court or even see the interior of a courtroom. Small print on FactCheckZuck.com disclosed that only a portion of donated funds would go towards legal fees, with the rest earmarked for “other purposes by the LLC.”