Facebook Easily Defeats Lawsuit Over User Posts–Hicks v. Bradford

Whoa, what a flashback. 😵 We used to see lawsuits like this 15+ years ago, but we don’t see them any more because they are so obviously doomed by Section 230.

This case involves a shooting of police officers. Multiple Facebook posters claimed Hicks was the shooter and doxxed him. Allegedly, Facebook was repeatedly notified that Hicks wasn’t the shooter, but Facebook didn’t remove the posts or block new ones. Hicks sued for defamation and also claimed Facebook violated the CCPA by publishing his PII (Wot? That’s not how the CCPA works. At all.).

Facebook moved to dismiss on Section 230 grounds. The court applies the standard three-part Section 230 test:

ICS Provider. “Websites such as Facebook that facilitate the connection of countless online users to a common database and servers indeed qualify as interactive computer services….There is no serious question that Facebook fits this statutory definition.”

Information from Another ICP. Hicks claimed Facebook partially developed the users’ posts because it failed to remove the posts on notice. Seriously? If I were a judge, I would sanction that argument harshly. There is so much binding precedent rejecting the argument–it’s not the least bit colorable. Instead, the court says that “this conduct simply does not make Meta an information content provider….The allegations in the SAC show that third parties voluntarily provided all the content at issue here.”

Later, the court rejects Hicks’ invocation of various public disclosures by Facebook, claiming “Facebook’s informational posts about how to create ‘authentic’ content do not make it a contributor to that content.”

Hicks also argued that Facebook co-authors every user post because it displays an “i” symbol on each post that provides Facebook’s “specific opinions about the unique post and what Facebook wants its readers to know and believe about the original content.” The court is confused. “The mere fact that Facebook had the ability, in 2015, to provide additional information about other users’ content is not sufficient to show that Facebook did so here.”

[UPDATE: I assume Hicks is referring to this symbol, which I don’t think appears on every post.

If clicked, it provides some metadata about the link, which is quite different substantively from how Hicks characterized it:

I don’t see any credible argument that the metadata disclosures create any liability for the underlying content.]

Publisher/Speaker Claims. “Hicks’ defamation and Consumer Privacy Act claims (as alleged in the SAC) are explicitly predicated on the imposition of liability for Meta’s hosting, and refusal to remove, defamatory or private information about Hicks.”

Facebook easily qualifies for Section 230. It wasn’t close at all. Thus, the court grants Facebook’s motion to dismiss with prejudice. I’m not sure if Facebook filed an anti-SLAPP motion, but the court’s decision means Hicks may not have to pay for Facebook’s high-priced lawyers. I think he would have certainly owed a fee-shift if the court had applied anti-SLAPP laws. Either way, looping Facebo0k into this litigation was a terrible decision.

Hick’s lawyer in this case is Ed Lyman of Family Legal. It appears Lyman expanded his knowledge base while working on this case. #LifelongLearning.

Case Citation: Hicks v. Bradford, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 144782 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 17, 2023). The complaint.