Non-Profit Hilariously Claims It Can Sue Change.org For 'Flagging' Its Petition

from the not-how-it-works dept

So this post is going to touch on some issues that people get very emotional about, and I'm going to ask (probably pointlessly) that folks not focus on those issues, but on the issue that this post is actually trying to address: which is the ridiculous claim that Change.org can be sued for notifying users that statements in a petition "may be contested." A group called "Stop Antisemitism" put a petition on Change.org making a bunch of claims about CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Many of those claims are ones that I would personally label as "highly questionable," or in some cases "downright misleading," and which some might say are simply "pure bullshit." The actual petition is supposedly a call to have Attorney General William Barr investigate CAIR. Not surprisingly, a bunch of people have complained to Change.org about this particular petition.

Change.org decided to leave the petition up, but to append a "flag" at the top with the following text (in fairly small print):

Change.org has received flags from our users that the statements in this petition may be contested. You should consider researching this issue before signing or sharing.

All in all, this is relatively mild. Since this petition was apparently generating a lot of controversy, and controversy leads to flame wars, Change.org also made the perfectly reasonable decision to disable comments on the petition, as well as removed it directly from Change.org's search. Finally, it removed a feature that lets users contribute to the organizations behind the petition after they sign it. Again, these are perfectly reasonable steps to take on a controversial petition.

Except that apparently "Stop Antisemitism" seems to think this is against the law. A group called the Zachor Legal Institute, which never explains what its exact relationship is with "Stop Antisemitism," sent a laughably silly legal threat to Change.org, arguing that the actions described above -- all of which are easily protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (not to mention the 1st Amendment) are somehow a violation of Stop Antisemitism's 1st Amendment rights. This is... silly. After going on about some nonsense about Change.org's terms of service, the threat letter makes the following claim, which is simply unsupported by the law anywhere:

While the Constitution's First Amendment does not generally apply to private parties acting as such, when such a party operates and controls public platforms used by the public for public benefit, that party becomes a quasi-state actor and can be held liable for First Amendment violations. The fact that Change.org is also a Public Benefit Corporation bolsters the need for Change.org to be free from discrimination and allow all viewpoints to be expressed without censure or other infringement.

That's not what the law says. It's not what any court says. It's rather telling, actually, that the letter cites literally nothing in support of these claims, because it has nothing it can cite.

We believe that the evidence set forth above demonstrates that Change.org has subjected the Subject Petition to a discriminatory campaign of demonetization, shadowbanning and censorship, in violation of Change.org's own policies, governance standards for Public Benefit Corporations and applicable state and federal laws, including anti-discrimination principles of California and Delaware law, federal prohibitions on ware fraud and the First Amendment.

Say what now? This is the same basic garbage legal argument that has been used by neo-Nazis and other racists suing over being kicked off of Twitter -- and so far its failed miserably, and this case here is even more ridiculous. As for the "wire fraud" claims... uh, what? There is nothing even remotely close to wire fraud in Change.org doing a bit of content moderation on its platform.

In the Jerusalem Post story linked above that first alerted us to this nonsense, Change.org notes that it disabled comments and other features on that particular petition because so many of the comments on that petition clearly violated the site's community guidelines, and thus it felt it best to just turn them off entirely -- which, again, is both an entirely reasonable decision and one that is clearly allowed under the law.

As far as I can tell, no actual lawsuit has been filed yet, but if one was, it would almost certainly be laughed out of court. I guess it's no surprise that the organization sending the letter, the Zachor Legal Institute (which, again, never actually explains its relationship to "Stop Antisemitism"), talks about how it's an advocacy organization focused on "the legal battle against 'Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions' (BDS)." As we've discussed a few times, there's been a clearly unconstitutional attack on BDS efforts lately. So I guess it figures if it's going to go all unconstitutional on BDS, why not do the same on content moderation online as well?

No matter how you feel about CAIR, BDS or all of the related issues around them, the idea that Change.org can't put a flag or otherwise moderate content on its platform is laughable. The idea that it violates the First Amendment by magically being some quasi-state actor is even more laughable. Change.org, like all internet platforms, is protected by both CDA 230 and the First Amendment, making it free to choose how it runs its site, including how it moderates content on that site. Even leaving aside that Change.org's decisions in response to an inflammatory and misleading petition were much more subdued than this petition may have deserved, if it had chosen to delete the petition entirely, that too would have been protected.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, anti-semitism, bds, cda 230, content moderation, flagging, petitions, section 230, wire fraud
Companies: cair, change.org, stop antisemitism, zachor legal institute


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  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 25 Apr 2019 @ 10:56am

    And this is why white supremacists make really awful lawyers.
    They can nazi the consequences of their actions.

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

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:04am

    Nah...

    ...they don't think it's against the law.

    What they DO think, correctly is that by paying the what, $35 filing fee for a lawsuit, they'll get a ton of free publicity.

    Good thing nobody is playing into their hands by reporting on it...

    /s

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:07pm

      Kind of a wash

      Eh, on the one hand they get someone to report on it. On the other hand, on TD at least, the report basically consists of 'these guys are idiots who don't know what they're talking about'. On TD at least it probably didn't work out how they wanted it to.

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

      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:41pm

        Re: Kind of a wash

        Before reading the TD article, had you ever even heard of this group? I hadn't.

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 1:05pm

          You only get one first impression

          I had not, however if the first and potentially only thing a person knows about a group is 'despite having legal in their name they don't actually know the law' that's not likely to work out so well for them.

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

          • icon
            Bamboo Harvester (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 1:29pm

            Re: You only get one first impression

            Bad assumption there - you're only considering reasonable people.

            Get the wingnuts who think your Kill all the Elbonians! is the bee's knees to see a similar group and you gain notoriety and possibly new members.

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

  • icon
    Stan (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:06am

    an experiment?

    Hey Mike, just for yuks, why don't you disable comments on this post for a few hours... just to see who sues you.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:27am

    1-800-Lawfirm got a new name?

    "party becomes a quasi-state actor"
    How the fsck did this asshole pass the bar?

    Member, The Federalist Society - Oh.

    THE BDS MOVEMENT IS ILLEGAL!!!!!!!!! Wargle wargle wargle...
    His SSRN pages are... the stuff of WHAT THE FSCK.

    'The Inapplicability of First Amendment Protections to BDS Movement Boycotts.2016 Cardozo L. Rev. de novo 112.'

    I wonder where he stands on the laws demanding you can't do business with a state unless you sign a pledge no not boycott Israel, I have a feeling that is perfectly fine as long as it doesn't apply to him.

    Aww he couldn't pass muster to get his own Wikipedia page.

    "Marc Greendorfer, founder of the Zachor Legal Institute, said the ties between BDS and terror organizations are “extensive.”"

    Because its all Hamas and other pro-Palestine terrorist groups took over all the SJW control nodes & are directing people to push the evil of BDS!!!!!

    He is very excited some of his language was used in the Hobby Lobby case, those moral people who were so deeply offended by birth control they sued while investing in & profiting all their workers from a company making birth control...

    The best lawyers always misrepresent the foundational laws of the country to suit their personal crusade to protect a foriegn nation from people protesting they don't like how that nation behaves and boycotting companies to make change...
    I bet he had no problem with all of the people who boycotted Dicks Sporting Goods when they dropped assault style weapons from the inventory...
    Perhaps someone should send him an insane legal threat completely untethered from the law so he doesn't feel so alone.

    Whats that phrase... Oh yes...
    Christ what an asshole.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:32am

      Christ what an asshole.

      That’s my schtick; get your own! 😛

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

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:41pm

        Re:

        Yeah, well, you stole it from Steve Allen.

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

      • identicon
        AnonyOps, 25 Apr 2019 @ 10:25pm

        Re:

        Said Kan. Gop. Assohole Steve King to De Jesus Dominus - Acts 1:23

        So they nominated two men: Joseph (Steve King) called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias (De Jesus). 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas (Trump) left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

        Then the feast of apostles grew in number and pray they did at the alter of hubris.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:42am

    I want to know what a quasi-state actor is. Maybe toss in some other examples would be great. Currently I feel this is the biggest bs term I've read in a very long time which is impressive considering who's president.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:57am

      Well, if you insist...

      I want to know what a quasi-state actor is.

      quasi-state actor — noun — A term used to conflate privately-owned platforms with public squares so the speaker can claim the First Amendment forbids those platforms from moderating legally-protected speech

      See also: Bullshit

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

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 1:31pm

      Re:

      Snark aside, a "quasi-state actor" is generally a business contracted by a local government.

      Having the Contract for city-wide towing makes that towing company a "quasi-state actor".

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

      • icon
        Toom1275 (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 2:23pm

        Re: Re:

        Or the FBI paying PC those repair geeks under the table to do a little snooping on peoples' machines.

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

        • icon
          Bamboo Harvester (profile), 26 Apr 2019 @ 8:41am

          Re: Re: Re:

          No, because there's no contractual obligation in place with a governmental body.

          The geeks are just paid snitches, and the agents paying them are violating TPD deliberately.

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

    • identicon
      Bobvious, 27 Apr 2019 @ 4:42pm

      Re: Quasi-state actor

      Well I think the guy who played the Hunchback of Notre Dame would be a good candidate for quasi-state actor.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:05pm

    Don't like the law? Just hallucinate a new version!

    It's almost impressive how much that laughably wrong assertion of 'if you offer service to the public, you become a government actor and are restricted in what you can do' seems to get around.

    You'd think someone that sends threats on behalf of a group that has 'legal' in their name would have some, I dunno, competent lawyers on staff who would know that such claims are utterly groundless and would get laughed out of court, but I suppose can't expect too much these days, given how often the delusional belief in what certain people think the law says gets repeated so often.

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

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:24pm

    Hallucinating Lawyers

    I want some of what they've been smoking.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:51pm

      Re: Hallucinating Lawyers

      Why would you want to hallucinate lawyers? Sounds like a bad trip to me.

      I'm here all week.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:33pm

    Apparently Change.org is a private, for profit business.

    afaik, private business is allowed to not serve those without a shirt and shoes.

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:44pm

      Re:

      ...requiring a shirt and shoes is a health code requirement, Anon.

      This is not equivalent to a private business refusing to serve someone for a health code violation. It's equivalent to a private business asking someone to go sit somewhere else because the things they're saying are upsetting the other customers.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:59pm

        Re: Re:

        it's more like, quit with the questionable crap and simmer down or we'll ask you to leave.

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

      • icon
        Gary (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 1:10pm

        Re: Re:

        Apparently it is perfectly fine (now) for a private business to refuse service to anyone they don't like - on religious grounds rather than public health.
        Shirt and shoes is local law, not personal preference. (But if you are of the right religion, you can refuse to serve cake to gays, blacks, jews, muslims or whatnot as long as your religion says it's ok. )

        But yes, your "annoying the other customers" is a great analogy Thad.

        You are also free to discriminate against non-protected classes as well as disruptive customers. Nazi's, Flat-Earthers, Anti-Vaccers are all non-protected classes.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 2:19pm

    Just realize, this is only the beginning

    Now that the alt-right know that organizations will put up warnings on things like this petition if enough people complain, get ready for a whole lot of bots to start complaining about any petition that tickles their ire.

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

  • icon
    someoneinnorthms (profile), 26 Apr 2019 @ 7:13am

    In a different context there is precedent for a non-governmental organization to be considered a state actor. See NCAA v. Tarkanian, 488 U.S. 179 (1988). This is a United States Supreme Court case that says it is possible for a non-state actor to turn into a state actor. However, that was not a First Amendment case.

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

  • icon
    abridental (profile), 29 Apr 2019 @ 2:25am

    Relax , Gimme some Smile :)

    Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.

    Sir/Maam

    i would like to ask some advice on my first project. kindly visit https://abridental.com/thank you

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


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