Facebook Sued In Israel For Blocking All Links To Site Critical Of Facebook & Suggesting Site Was 'Unsafe'

from the questions,-questions,-questions dept

Mizbala is an Israeli marketing/creative agency that runs a news site as well, commenting on issues related to internet marketing and advertising. The site has been quite critical of Facebook, including a few recent posts where it mocked Facebook for its aggressive/arbitrary blocking of users and content:

Over the past few days, Mizbala has written about other cases in which Facebook automatically blocked and/or erased posts. In one case, comedian Guri Alfi complained about the erasure of one of his posts, which he attributed to the fact that he credited photographer Guy Kushi. The Hebrew word “kushi” is a derogative term for blacks.

In another incident, Gili Cohen, a participant in the “Big Brother” reality show, was blocked for 30 days after posting a video clip in which he harshly criticized the fact that he and others had been blocked for using “banned words” in old posts.

This is something that we've been known to post about on quite a few occasions as well. The fact is, Facebook isn't always good with its blocking decisions. Frankly, this isn't a huge surprise, given that it has to use a combination of algorithms and low level human reviewers to cover a fairly large amount of content -- a decision the company made when it decided that it would be the arbiter of what is and what is not allowed on the site. Mistakes are going to happen, and with it comes people mocking Facebook for making bad decisions.

However, with Mizbala, something extra strange happened. Soon after posting a few of these stories mocking Facebook, suddenly Mizbala itself was blocked by Facebook. Entirely. Even worse, previous links to Mizbala disappeared and anyone posting a link to Mizbala was given a fairly scary sounding message suggesting the site was deemed "unsafe" by Facebook.

In some other cases, it told people posting Mizbala links that the links "might be spam."

Yeah, so that certainly feels pretty sketchy. The site is regularly critical of Facebook -- specifically how it blocks people arbitrarily -- and suddenly it too gets blocked by Facebook with a nasty warning that the site itself is "unsafe." Even if this was an accident, it really looks quite bad.

In response, Mizbala has sued Facebook in Israel arguing that the messages associated with the block are defamatory and a "false description" of Mizbala (which appears to be similar to the concept of "false light" in American law).

I'll admit that I'm a bit torn about this whole thing. The arbitrary/hamfisted blocking is pretty ridiculous, and it's made much worse when it comes right after Mizbala was directly criticizing Facebook for arbitrary blocking and when it then is telling people that the site is either unsafe or spam. But, at the same time, it seems like a flat out public shaming is always going to make more sense here than going legal. In the US, at least, this kind of lawsuit would almost certainly fall flat (quickly). Nearly a decade ago, we wrote about a case in which it was found that Section 230 of the CDA protected an antivirus company (Kaspersky) from calling some adware "spyware." CDA 230(c)(2) makes it quite clear that attempts by companies to filter content taken in good faith don't expose the company to liability (of course, if this case were in the US, I'd guess that Mizbala could argue that the block wasn't made "in good faith.")

Of course, the case is in Israel, not in the US, and Israel doesn't have an equivalent to Section 230 for cases like this.

Given all that, this case could be troublesome. Obviously, Facebook's actions here look sketchy, and I'm all for calling out the company for its bad filtering policies, and the really iffy "unsafe" labelling it gave to the site here. But by putting liability on a company for deciding to block certain sites opens up a pandora's box of mischief. It could enable just about any site that was blocked -- even if for legitimate reasons, to gum up the judicial system with lawsuits and would make it much more difficult for lots of internet companies (including small ones who don't have the litigation budget of Facebook) to have to defend almost any moderation decision they make. This is the kind of thing that Section 230 protects against in the US, letting companies make their own moderation decisions (while the First Amendment then lets anyone mock the companies for making bad decisions).


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 9:57am

    "Unsafe" label

    Not that this justifies Facebook's actions, but I wonder if it is labeled "unsafe" because Facebook does not have a "because we felt like it" option when marking sites as undesirable. Personally, I would like for Facebook's moderators to do a clearer job of marking why the site is deemed inappropriate. CDA may protect them as-is in the US, but they might be on firmer ground in other jurisdictions if they had a block category that was more clearly labeled as the company's opinion, not an apparently objective value judgment. Unsafe is subjective, but many people treat it as a relatively objective rating when it is used by a trustworthy entity. (I am aware of the irony of calling Facebook trustworthy.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 10:08am

    Seems Plausible

    I'll admit that I'm a bit torn about this whole thing.

    Maybe Facebook's security systems detected something "unsafe" on their website. Maybe not. Mizbala thinks the latter. The only way to know is to obtain Facebook's internal documents and logs through discovery in litigation and, even then, you don't always learn the truth. If this case were in the U.S., Mizbala would have the legal right to find out because their theory certainly is plausible.

    As for the classification of "unsafe" constituting defamation or "false description," consider it in light of the text of Section 230(c)(2)(A):

    No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of ... any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.

    In other words, if Facebook is blocking the links because it believes that they are harassing, Facebook could have and should have just said as much. But if that is the reason and Facebook is calling it "unsafe" to hide the real reason, they may have a problem on their hands.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 10:18am

    So Facebook "blocks people arbitrarily", just like Techdirt!

    I know from personal experience that behind the scenes Masnick blocks home IP addresses of critics, and visibly tries to keep all critics off the site, in part by allowing fanboys to attack them without ever an admonishment. He allows a hostile environment, and provides the censor -- I mean "hide" button to cover that it's administrator action which "hides" dissenting comments.

    That's well supported by numerous complaints here (slipped in as can via Tor) which go (officially) unanswered. -- And lack of any denial over several years is evidence that will stand up in court. -- Techdirt has no stated comment guidelines or ban policy (or much beyond claiming owns your info and comments), and hasn't admitted to it for so long now that can't.

    >>> Oh, and "STStone": why is Masnick relating this as if bad when you claim that sites are under no obligation to allow criticism?

    And to hedge predicted counters yet again: statutes and court decisions are not the whole of the law. See the much more recent CRFA (which passed unanimously) for good support that sites MUST allow criticism, even on site. Techdirt is a business, does not have rights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 10:12pm

      Re:

      Please use the form below to contact us about ways to drive connective, useful conversations that offer a real ROI for your advertising dollar. https://www.techdirt.com/advertise.php

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 20 Mar 2017 @ 2:09am

      Re:

      "I know from personal experience that behind the scenes Masnick blocks home IP addresses of critics"

      I'm sure your evidence of this will be forthcoming.

      "He allows a hostile environment"

      ...by not enforcing a login for every commenter, and allowing anonymous commenters untrackable by the community. Which allows some trolls to derail threads regularly with personal attacks against him and users of the site. A shame, but he has a very well stated set of reasons why he keeps letting anonymous assholes to comment despite their sometimes toxic effect.

      "provides the censor -- I mean "hide" button to cover that it's administrator action which "hides" dissenting comments"

      ...of which you have solid evidence and not just sour grapes because you're always correctly blocked by everyone else here for your trolling? Right?

      "Techdirt has no stated comment guidelines or ban policy"

      Apart from the report button utilised by the community to his trolls, which are known to flag new comments as spam if a lot of comments from a certain IP are flagged. Do you make a habit of being obtuse, or is this a new hobby?

      I know of one AC prone to childish swearing fits that cause him to have his posts blocked, which has caused a number of known Tor and VPN addresses to be flagged. You're not him, though, I sure. You're just a poor innocent person who is never affected correctly for your own behaviour.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 20 Mar 2017 @ 6:43am

        Re: Re:

        I argue with Mike when I think he's wrong but I don't flip my wig if he a) doesn't engage with me, b) disagrees with me, or c) the other readers hide my posts.

        Wait: I don't believe I've ever had a post of mine hidden, even if it was off-topic or orthogonal to the subject of the post, as this one is. Perhaps it's because I don't have an overweening sense of unwarranted self-importance that demands respect I haven't earned. Nor do I get into flame wars with the other posters even when we disagree.

        Stop whingeing. Nobody owes you attention, AC.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 20 Mar 2017 @ 7:01am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I've never noticed if I've had a post of mine hidden, but then generally speaking I don't return to a thread unless I get a notification email containing a reply to me so I may not notice if they are.

          I *have* had posts flagged as spam (usually if I've forgotten to log in or I've made a few comments containing links in rapid succession), but I recognise that as my own fault.

          That's the real problem here. These people are either trolling or simply unable to have an intelligent conversation without flying off the handle, then lose it when they're called out on it. The fact that there's a degree of separation between the people reporting and the site reacting seems to cause them to leap straight to "conspiracy!" rather than examining the behaviour that got so many people to flag them. Simply disagreeing with someone usually isn't enough on its own.

          "Nor do I get into flame wars with the other posters even when we disagree."

          I poke the trolls when I'm bored, but in a general sense I do like having a civil conversation with people with opposing viewpoints, so long as they're as open to adult factual conversation as I am.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AricTheRed, 17 Mar 2017 @ 10:31am

    Effing Facebook

    I quit facebook in '06 when Wifey rejected my friend request. eff'book used little radio buttons to notify the requestee how you claimed to know them.

    Me- Clicked "We hooked up once at a party"

    Wifey- Clicked "Reject Friend Request"

    Yugest favor she ever did for me, I mean seriously Bigly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 11:43am

    Facebook for everyday folks

    There two primary mistakes I see individuals make with FB.

    Mistake 1: Supporting FB's data-rape business model by having an account on FB in the first place.

    Mistake 2: When - in the rare case - there's some compelling reason an individual absolutely must maintain a FB account, they get their news from the opportunistic, confirmation biased, state/corporate propaganda, filter bubble that is FB News Feed.

    If you're not a business/NGO and/or otherwise conducting your activities with the express intent of broadcasting every single minutia of your FB activity to strangers in marketing/insurance/employers/law enforcement/etc. (btw - strangers that almost certainly will use that info to further their interests with little regard to your own), you should seriously consider not supporting FB by your participation. Remember, as far as "regular" people are concerned, to Zuckface, the details of your personal life is the product he's selling.

    Friends don't let Friends Facebook.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    seedeevee (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 12:04pm

    "low level human reviewers"

    Rise Up Machines!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 12:33pm

    It's enervating when some group/people under criticism fro something take actions that not only hurts their cause when they are mostly right but also endangers others that need things to be kept balanced. Shame on Facebook. Maybe if they are thoroughly screwed in Israel they'll think twice before doing it elsewhere.

    Too big to be criticized it seems...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 1:04pm

    Israel

    Do you know HOW critical this country is???
    its on the Cusp of being a CLOSED environment..
    Its almost as bad as the OLD russia..REALLY.
    If you post Anything about the political Ideals of Any of the Other establishments, you can be Sued, and prosecuted, as well as BOMBED, by another group..

    THIS, in itself, is just a Pissing match between 2 internet sites..unless the gov. or 1 of the factions in the area get UPSET, this is a Non-story..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 6:55pm

    So Facebook "blocks people arbitrarily", just like Techdirt!

    I know from personal experience that behind the scenes Masnick blocks home IP addresses of critics, and visibly tries to keep all critics off the site, in part by allowing fanboys to attack them without ever an admonishment. He allows a hostile environment, and provides the censor -- I mean "hide" button to cover that it's administrator action which "hides" dissenting comments.

    That's well supported by numerous complaints here (slipped in as can via Tor) which go (officially) unanswered. -- And lack of any denial over several years is evidence that will stand up in court. -- Techdirt has no stated comment guidelines or ban policy (or much beyond claiming owns your info and comments), and hasn't admitted to it for so long now that can't.

    >>> Oh, and "STStone": why is Masnick relating this as if bad when you claim that sites are under no obligation to allow criticism?


    And to hedge predicted counters yet again: statutes and court decisions are not the whole of the law. See the much more recent CRFA (which passed unanimously) for good support that sites MUST allow criticism, even on site. Techdirt is a business, does not have rights.

    5th attempt since soon after it appeared! Any mulltiple posts show the blocking in action.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 20 Mar 2017 @ 2:26am

      Re: So Facebook "blocks people arbitrarily", just like Techdirt!

      "Any mulltiple posts show the blocking in action"

      No, they show a tired troll unable to understand why his whining keeps getting flagged as spam and held for moderation. Any multiple posts show the actions of an obsessed loser who can't stand that the community he keeps annoying won't let him through the front door as easily as they used to.

      "sites MUST allow criticism, even on site"

      The increasing number of sites removing comments - especially anonymous ones - prove you wrong.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2017 @ 8:33am

        Re: Re: So Facebook "blocks people arbitrarily", just like Techdirt!

        I like how he claims that "multiple" posts indicate that the "blocking" is in action. If blocking is in action and still allows any posts, it is the shittiest blocking I've ever seen.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 20 Mar 2017 @ 8:52am

          Re: Re: Re: So Facebook "blocks people arbitrarily", just like Techdirt!

          The best thing is that what these people usually whine about isn't blocking, it's just a spam filter that needs to be dealt with manually. Rather than realising that their constant whining and spamming is causing their posts to end up in the filter, they keep submitting posts that get filtered. Then look even more like idiots when the majority of their posts are eventually approved.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 6:56pm

    And I got it in eventually, so WHY does Techdirt block comments?

    Techdirt thereby forfeits all (alleged) 230 protections by making itself the publisher, not a neutral platform.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 10:36pm

      Re: And I got it in eventually, so WHY does Techdirt block comments?

      "Techdirt thereby forfeits all (alleged) 230 protections by making itself the publisher, not a neutral platform."

      That is... not at all how Section 230 works. Hell, in this very post it's explained that part of Section 230 is that you don't lose your protections if you moderate content. Why it's almost as if you're not reading the post at all, but just trolling.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 1:27am

        Re: Re: And I got it in eventually, so WHY does Techdirt block comments?

        Did you see the reply in court from the Inventor of Email? Wow, looks convincing to me. InventorofEmail.com/TheFacts.

        Please use the form below to contact us about ways to drive connective, useful conversations that offer a real ROI for your advertising dollar. https://www.techdirt.com/advertise.php

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 6:04am

          Re: Re: Re: And I got it in eventually, so WHY does Techdirt block comments?

          Uh oh, this spambot seems to be evolving.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 18 Mar 2017 @ 6:08am

        Try not to feed the troll

        Just report and ignore them, it's the same person that went on a mass-comment spam recently, and the less 'encouragement'/attention they get the better.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tomxx (profile), 18 Mar 2017 @ 6:42am

    Facebook Sued In Israel ...

    "public shaming is always going to make more sense here than going legal." is pretty silly when you are up against a goliath like Facebook. What bully pulpit do you have access to that will match Facebook ?

    "In the US, at least, this kind of lawsuit would almost certainly fall flat (quickly)." is an indictment of the oligarchical US legal system where the ad hominem fallacy rules and the "right people" always win.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 1:41pm

    seriously, how zuck would have behaved had he lived in 1930s germany? conformist? for a change?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2017 @ 8:42pm

    out_of_the_blue and Shiva Ayyadurai just hate it when due process is enforced.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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