Former US Ambassador Sues Apple Because Telegram Users Are Making Him Feel Scared [Update]
from the yeah-i-don't-know-either dept
Here’s an interesting lawsuit, brought to you by some familiar names. And by “interesting,” I mean “exceedingly stupid.”
The lawsuit [PDF] was filed by “Ambassador Marc Ginsberg.” Ginsberg last served as an ambassador in 1998. And yet, that title is being used to name him as the plaintiff. The defendant is Apple. In the mix (but not a defendant) is Telegram, a popular and often controversial messaging app that has served as a mouthpiece for alt-right personalities and others who have been banned from more mainstream social media services.
Ginsberg also runs the Coalition for A Safer Web (the co-plaintiff in this lawsuit), a non-profit whose mission is “inter alia, to promote new public/private partnerships to facilitate the expeditious removal of extremist and terrorist incitement and instruction content from social media platforms.” The executive team at CSW includes Dr. Demetrick Pennie, a former Dallas Police sergeant and, according to the site, “leading CDA 230 expert.”
Here’s some of Dr. Pennie’s 230 expertise at work:
In January, Dallas Police Sergeant Demetrick Pennie sued [PDF] Twitter, Google, and Facebook, claiming they were directly responsible for “radicalizing” Micah Johnson, who shot and killed five police officers in Dallas, Texas. According to Pennie, the social media companies actively allowed and encouraged terrorist use of their platforms to spread their message and attract participants.
Pennie’s lawsuit was tossed because the court could find nothing linking terrorist organization Hamas to the Dallas shooter, despite Pennie’s baseless proclamations otherwise. And his lawsuit was so off-base — suing social media companies over the shooting of cops by a Dallas resident — the court couldn’t even be bothered to address the Section 230 ramifications. Pennie was represented in this case by Keith Altman of Excolo Law (often in conjunction with 1-800-LAW-FIRM), who has filed dozens of similarly stupid lawsuits trying to hold social media companies directly responsible for the violent acts of terrorists.
“Ambassador” Marc Ginsberg is suing Apple because of content Telegram users post. I’m not even kidding. And he’s being represented by ex-Excolo litigator Keith Altman, who has moved on to Lento Law Group. But he’s apparently still doing the same kind of litigation: suing the wrong parties over things other people are doing or have done.
The lawsuit features two plaintiffs (Ginsberg, Coalition for a Safer Web) because CSW employs Ginsberg and provides him with an iPhone. Apple is the defendant because it has refused to remove Telegram from its app store. The lawsuit is full of relevant facts and evidence, like this:
Currently, Defendant Apple sells the iPad Mini 5 for $399+, the 2020 iPad is $329+, the 2020 iPad Air is $599+, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is $999+, the 11- inch iPad Pro is $799+, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is $799, and the 11-inch iPad Pro is $649+.
Defendant Apple sells the Series 3 Apple Watch for a starting price of $199, the Apple Watch SE S5 for a starting price of $279, and an Apple Watch Series 6 for a starting price of $399.
Ginsberg claims the Telegram app violates Apple’s developer guidelines and California’s hate speech law and should be removed from the app store. Because Apple hasn’t removed the app, it has been downloaded and used by people who engage in anti-Semitic speech. (Ginsberg is Jewish.) Because Telegram refuses to remove this content, it somehow leaks into Ginsberg’s life through the app store — even if Ginsberg has never downloaded the app or engaged with its users.
Defendant breached their duty by continuing to host Telegram on the App Store despite Defendant’s knowledge that Telegram was being used to incite violence including violence against African Americans and Jews.
Ambassador Ginsberg is a Jewish person whose professional work requires he maintain a presence in the public eye.
As a result of this Anti-Semitic campaign that was coordinated on the Telegram app, Ambassador Ginsberg is forced to live in apprehension of religiously motivated violence being perpetrated against him.
Ambassador Ginsberg’s fear of religious violence has caused him substantial emotional harm including depression and anxiety.
All of this may be true. But suing Apple over distressing content carried on Telegram isn’t going to work. Apple doesn’t have a duty to remove anything from its app store that may cause distress to anyone. If anyone’s responsible for the racist content being spread on Telegram, it’s the people posting it. That targeted harassment is possibly being aided by a chat app is concerning, but Apple isn’t culpable for the actions of users of an app it allows customers to download and use.
And conclusory arguments like this aren’t going to convince a judge otherwise.
If was foreseeable to Apple that by allowing Telegram to continue to be available on the App Store that Apple’s conduct could lead to fear of violence by individuals, such as Ambassador Ginsberg.
By failing to remove Telegram from the Apple App Store, Defendant has proximately caused Ambassador Ginsberg’s emotional distress.
Plaintiff Ambassador Ginsberg has suffered injuries in an amount that exceeds $75,000.
The arguments get even worse. Ginsberg claims Apple deceived him into purchasing an iPhone by promising to enforce its app store restrictions — restrictions Ginsberg claims are violated by Telegram remaining available. But Telegram appears to comply with Apple’s rules for apps relying on third-party content because Telegram allows users to block accounts/content, report violations/abusive accounts, and provides contact info for users seeking to have questions and concerns addressed.
Somehow, Telegram’s continued presence in the app store has rendered Ginsberg’s phone nearly useless.
Defendant’s failure to enforce their own guidelines against Telegram has caused Ambassador Ginsberg and CSW to suffer economic loss by being deprived of a key benefit of the purchase and use of the Apple iPhone XR.
I don’t see how this makes it past a motion to dismiss. Ginsberg has a problem with Telegram users’ content. So he’s suing… Apple. Even assuming Apple is wrong to allow Telegram in its app store, Telegram is multi-platform. It has an Android app and a desktop version. The racist conspiracies Ginsberg believes are targeting him and causing him verifiable, recoupable harm could have originated on other platforms. Suing Apple into submission isn’t going to stop the behavior that’s bothering Ginsberg. It’s only going to enrich Ginsberg.
And that appears to be the whole point of this lawsuit: to hit the biggest target with the broadest allegations and hope for a quick settlement. There’s nothing in here that carries any legal weight or explains why Apple should be held responsible for the racist content that has (allegedly) caused Ginsberg distress.
UPDATE: Ginsberg has now sued Google for the same thing, claiming Google isn’t protecting him from Telegram users’ content by allowing it to remain in the Google Play store. That covers another outlet for Telegram, but once again, suing Google isn’t going to stop Telegram users from posting anti-Semitic content or otherwise making Ginsberg feel unsafe.
Filed Under: 1st amendment, demetrick pennie, hate speech, intermediary liability, keith altman, liability, marc ginsberg, section 230
Companies: a safer web, apple, excolo law, google, lento law group, telegram