Section 230 Protects a User Sharing an Allegedly Defamatory Facebook Event–AH v. Labana

This case involves St. Francis High School, a Catholic high school in Mountain View located just a few steps away from my home. In the wake of George Floyd’s death during the early pandemic days, racial tensions were high and people were angry. One SFHS student found on Spotify, and then publicized on social media, a photo of three peers that appeared to be in blackface, which the uploader said was evidence of racism at SFHS. The depicted students’ moms claim the students were wearing facemasks of green acne medicine, but what they were actually doing proves inconsequential. In the high-tension environment, the SHFS principal told the students they were not welcome at SFHS, so they “voluntarily” withdrew.

Meanwhile, Labana, a mom of another SFHS student, said that she was “ready for shame the kids and their parents.” Working with another parent, HJ, she helped organize a protest in support of racial equality at SFHS. HJ created a Facebook event that included the “blackface” photo and said:

This is a protest to [sic] the outrageous behavior that current and former students from SFHS did–A George Floyd [I]nstagram account making fun of his death, the fact that he could not breath [sic] and kids participating in black face and thinking that this is all a joke.

Does the SFHS administration think this is a joke? Please join us at the entrance of the school off of Miramonte St. and make sure this administration knows that this type of behavior will NOT be tolerated.

Please remember to practice social distancing, wear a mask and bring a sign if you would like! Feel free to add people to this list.

A screenshot I took this morning:

(This screenshot no longer contains the photo in question, but if you really must see it for yourself, it’s on page 32 of the complaint).

Labana shared the event on Facebook. Two of the depicted students sued Labana (and others) for defamation. The lower court granted Labana’s anti-SLAPP motion and awarded attorneys’ fees. The appeals court affirms.

[The Los Altos Town Crier story referenced in the opinion. Coverage of the lawsuit from the Mountain View Voice, the Mercury News, and national news.]

The key question is whether Labana committed any defamation herself. The court says no.  The court explains: “Labana was neither the original poster, creator, nor developer of the ‘blackface’ photograph or of the Facebook event post with the ‘blackface’ statement….H.J., the co-organizer of the protest march, created and posted the Facebook event post,” which Labana then shared. Labana was listed as a “co-host” of the Facebook event, but that didn’t show that she was actually responsible for creating or developing the content. Therefore, Labana qualified for Section 230, the defamation claim fails, and the anti-SLAPP motion was proper.

Note: consistent with Barrett v. Rosenthal, this is yet another example of how USERS of social media directly benefit from Section 230. It’s not just for “Big Tech.”

Case Citation:  AH v. Labana, 2022 WL 17687172 (Cal. App. Ct. Dec. 15, 2022). The complaint. Harmeet Dhillon represents the plaintiffs. You can find the trial court ruling in this file.