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).