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The Courts Censorship Communications Facebook Social Networks United States

Facebook Can Block Content Without Explanation, Says US Court (thestack.com) 147

An anonymous reader writes: A U.S. court has ruled that Facebook can block any content posted to its site without explanation, after a Sikh group legally challenged the company for taking its page offline. U.S. Northern District of California Judge Lucy Koh ruled that the U.S. based rights group's encouragement of religious discrimination is illegal under the Communications Decency Act, which protects 'interactive computer services' providers by preventing courts from treating them as the publishers of the speech created by their users.
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Facebook Can Block Content Without Explanation, Says US Court

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  • Yes please! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 18, 2015 @04:31PM (#50957583)
    Can they block the entire Facebook.com while they're at it?
  • by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 18, 2015 @04:36PM (#50957623) Homepage Journal
    I'm not a fan of their business model, nor do I have an account of any kind on their system. However, I side with them on arguing that they should be able to block any content they want. I don't see them as being any different from a newspaper editorial page, which has the freedom to publish anything it wants. Furthermore having your content rejected from facebook does not in any way prevent you from taking it elsewhere, so your speech is really not being oppressed.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Communication forums normally have to decide which of two categories they fall into.

      Option 1: Disinterested provider of opportunity. These forums have some coded rules of behavior or content, but otherwise do not filter anything. They accept no responsibility for the content that people post and let the users solve things until it crosses one of the (few and explicitly stated) lines.

      Option 2: Active editors. These forums are cultivated, maintained, and very ban-heavy. As a side-effect, the forum can be

      • Option 2: Active editors. These forums are cultivated, maintained, and very ban-heavy. As a side-effect, the forum can be held responsible for third-party content.

        Not true in the US (other than, potentially, with copyright issues and the like).

        Remember, the CDA was intended to encourage providers to engage in censorship. Since the previous state of affairs was as you suggest, the way that they were encouraged to censor was to remove liability for material posted by third parties. But since many sites don't care, and the CDA protects them fully no matter what they do or don't do, it didn't really work out. Also other parts of the CDA turned out to be unconstitutional.

    • by swalve ( 1980968 )
      Agree completely. It's their fucking website, we are just guests.
    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      Facebook was the only web site site to survive the Web Wars. Now all web sites are Facebook.

  • Speech includes the right not to say something, and that's literally pretty much the end of it. If their TOS had some kind of guarantee that, as long as you don't violate some set of subjects, they might have a case.

    But as "printer", they don't have to say jack squat. The "wedding cake" lawsuits are shaping up this way -- a cake in general with two grooms, must do. With particular phrases, nope.

    • Freedom of the press does not mean that a private company has to print what you want them to. It means that the government can't interfere with your right to say it.
      As far as the other, a business has a right to refuse service to anybody for any reason or no reason. In fact, no reason is preferred, because people will sue you if you do it for a reason. Yes, even to refuse service to Police Officers, nursing mothers, doe-eyed orphans dying of cancer, as idiotic as that may be. Everybody else can also then
      • Re:Says you! (Score:5, Informative)

        by cfalcon ( 779563 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2015 @05:03PM (#50957819)

        > As far as the other, a business has a right to refuse service to anybody for any reason or no reason.

        Civil Right Act of 1964 says otherwise.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Businesses have the right to refuse service for whatever reason they want. But if they refuse service because of your skin color or sexual orientation, not only are they assholes, but they are breaking the law. So if you own a business and want to be a bigoted asshole, just deny the service and give them a different reason.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tompaulco ( 629533 )

          > As far as the other, a business has a right to refuse service to anybody for any reason or no reason.

          Civil Right Act of 1964 says otherwise.

          Okay, so you only have the right to refuse service to anybody who is a white male. That doesn't seem like it should be legal.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          > As far as the other, a business has a right to refuse service to anybody for any reason or no reason.

          Civil Right Act of 1964 says otherwise.

          But not if you're a Muslim refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

          Some animals are more equal than others.

          • That would be interested, to see two groups that enjoy being the victims, guilt tripping everyone around them, clash.

            If I get to choose, could it be Muslims vs. Feminists? They have so many touching points that watching this should be awesome!

            • by Anonymous Coward

              If I get to choose, could it be Muslims vs. Feminists? They have so many touching points that watching this should be awesome!

              One that I find quite amusing is the case of Kimberly Nixon:

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

              Kimberly Nixon, a transgendered woman, was not allowed to work at a rape crisis centre because she was not born female.

              The legal precedent has generally been that a transgendered woman was legally female, but apparently not...

            • If I get to choose, it would be Muslims vs. Fembots... Oh behave!

      • a business has a right to refuse service to anybody for any reason or no reason.

        This is not true in America, or the EU. I doubt if it is true anywhere else either.

      • As other's have noted, you are not correct. I wonder if they could get by this way though:

        All wedding cakes cost $10k, heterosexual couples can use a coupon that offers a $9500 discount off the retail price of a cake. It is technically not discrimination as you will sell a cake to anyone, it is the discount that doesn't apply to everyone. Then if the homosexual couple wants to pay the price, just sell them the cake and donate the extra profit to your local church or something.

        • No it wouldn't get by. This exact practice has been ruled discriminatory in several cases. Several restaurants throughout the US over the past decade have found out that offering "10% off meal on Sunday's, when you bring in today's church bulletin" is a fast way to get a lawsuit happening and all of them have been forced to stop it. Offer 10% off to everybody or to nobody, but you can't offer pubic services to one group (Christians) and not the same to another group (anyone else who doesn't attend Sunday ch
          • No it wouldn't get by. This exact practice has been ruled discriminatory in several cases. Several restaurants throughout the US over the past decade have found out that offering "10% off meal on Sunday's, when you bring in today's church bulletin" is a fast way to get a lawsuit happening and all of them have been forced to stop it. Offer 10% off to everybody or to nobody, but you can't offer pubic services to one group (Christians) and not the same to another group (anyone else who doesn't attend Sunday church) unless you're a private club. Again, it's a matter that if you offer something to the public, you can't pull this sort of discriminatory shenanigans.

            How exactly do they define a "private club" for this purpose? Is any arbitrary membership criteria acceptable?

            • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

              How exactly do they define a "private club" for this purpose? Is any arbitrary membership criteria acceptable?

              I'm sure you have to sign something.

            • Usually ap private club is one that requires its patrons to actively apply for membership, and in some states requires a membership fee (whcih could be a nominal $5). Then there's rules on maintaining a list of members.

              • I once went to a "private" blues club, it required paying a "membership fee" and filling out "application form". The club was private so that it didn't need a liquor license. The membership fee was the equivalent of a cover charge and the membership period was for 1 day. So, the only difference was the membership form which was essentially a mailing list.

                I think the membership fee and the signup sheet were required to maintain the fiction of it being private. I don't know if they had memberships that w
        • What DaveyJJ said, plus: what happens when a wealthy gay couple decides to take this guy up on the offer? I'd be surprised $10k is enough for a devout homophobe to sell a cake and 'break his morals'...haha.. It'd be an awesome sight to see tho.
    • But as "printer", they don't have to say jack squat. The "wedding cake" lawsuits are shaping up this way -- a cake in general with two grooms, must do. With particular phrases, nope.

      Both are instances of whether a private organization can decide whether or not to interact with a recipient of services in ways said organization does not desire to.

      Either both should have this discretion or neither should have it. As believe it's generally wrong to force people to do things they don't wish to do (whether I support their reasons or find them reprehensible), I believe both Facebook and the wedding cake makers should have a choice. Both should also accept any public backlash resulting fr

      • But as "printer", they don't have to say jack squat. The "wedding cake" lawsuits are shaping up this way -- a cake in general with two grooms, must do. With particular phrases, nope.

        Both are instances of whether a private organization can decide whether or not to interact with a recipient of services in ways said organization does not desire to.

        Either both should have this discretion or neither should have it. As believe it's generally wrong to force people to do things they don't wish to do (whether I support their reasons or find them reprehensible), I believe both Facebook and the wedding cake makers should have a choice. Both should also accept any public backlash resulting from the way they exercise this choice.

        I agree with this. I am just stating the current law as I understand it. The expansive "interstate commerce" abomination, fortunately cannot touch the First Amendment. A law is a law is a law regardless.

        In the cake case, I submit putting two grooms on it would rise to expression in any other context.

  • Bad summary... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 18, 2015 @04:52PM (#50957765)

    I couldn't figure out what was going on from this ridiculous summary. Here's what the article says about what's going on:

    SFJ, a US based rights group, had filed the lawsuit against Facebook Inc. and claimed that the social media giant blocked its page at the behest of Indian government because of its outspoken campaign against government's "persecution of Sikhs a religious minority and advocating for Sikh referendum in the Indian state of Punjab."

    [...]

    SFJ lawsuit had also requested the court to issue an order compelling Facebook to produce all its communication with government of India related to SFJ's page and to issue an order reinstating access and enjoining Facebook from blocking right group's online content in future. The plaintiff said that on or about May 1, 2015 Facebook blocked access to SFJ page in India without prior notice or an explanation.

    I also note that Koh is the one who ruled for Apple against Samsung on those ridiculous design patents.

    • "I couldn't figure out what was going on from this ridiculous summary"

      I had the same problem.

      And if the accusations against facebook are true, they definitely want to keep it quiet -- how would they be able to explain what looks like helping the Indian government marginalize a minority.

      Also it's funny how the write up "Judge Lucy Koh ruled that the U.S. based rights group's encouragement of religious discrimination" makes it sound like the Sikhs are the ones with an ethics problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...the owners of the presses. Still.

    If Facebook dominates eyeballs and Facebook gets to moderate content - so, for example, a nipple is verboten, while racist "Britain First" gets to spam its crap ad inf. - then Facebook effectively sets the agenda. It doesn't matter that someone can set up a competing service in theory, because unless people use those competing services in practice, they might as well not exist. And to know that competing services are worthwhile, you have to be aware of what you're missing

  • Given their flagrant disregard for my privacy, I can't say I'm surprised.
  • by Tommy Carpenter ( 4202129 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2015 @05:19PM (#50957919)
    It's their website. It's free. They can block whatever they want. You are not paying for a QoS guaranteeing content. They can delete all your shit if they feel like it. I don't understand this debate.
    • It's their website. It's free. They can block whatever they want. You are not paying for a QoS guaranteeing content. They can delete all your shit if they feel like it. I don't understand this debate.

      To really understand it, you would first have to grok this insidious entitlement mentality first perfected by the Baby Boomers with their love of government "entitlements" (as they are literally called) and lack of concern for the long-term ability (of their grandchildren) to pay for them, handed down to the younger generations in the form of "you're a special snowflake no matter what" and later expanded to "you must have high self-esteem, no matter what, and it must never be conneced to any regard for whet

  • Basically isn't that the core of it? Regardless of one's feelings about it, doesn't FB have the right to dictate what content they allow?

    First Amendment issues might be different is this was a gov't run/controlled site, right? Oh wait... um, hmmm...

    • by flink ( 18449 )

      Basically isn't that the core of it? Regardless of one's feelings about it, doesn't FB have the right to dictate what content they allow?

      First Amendment issues might be different is this was a gov't run/controlled site, right? Oh wait... um, hmmm...

      Sure, but by exercising editorial control, they now bear an increased responsibility for the content they do allow to be posted. You can't have it both ways: either you are a disinterested common carrier that provides a medium of transmission, or you are an active curator who is liable for what your users post.

      • Facebook has never been a common carrier. Like all websites, they can (and do) remove content when it infringes copyright. Unlike your ISP or phone which they don't monitor the content (and don't have the capabilities to monitor it all in real time -- supposedly).

        • You obviously never happened to notice how they deal with nudity of any kind. That's a bit more editorial control than mere copyright watch.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      It depends on the public setting. If everyone is invited in for free and your local city, state, federal gov has a 2.0 site with public comments allowed?
      Then some freedom of expression and record keeping that might just fully cover public comments made :)
      A government selecting to use part of a social media and web 2.0 product cannot then fall back on the private sector to remove freedoms before during or after speech if the gov set up a fancy web 2.0 site and invited people in to comment.
  • Let's face it, Facebook is not quite a monopoly. There are other, similar social networking sites out there, and other people can freely start their own. They don't deserve the extra scrutiny that monopolies have.

    That said, people that treat Facebook as a requirement for using their internet services (dating websites are notorious for doing this) are scumbag douches that deserve to fail. It's the web, not Facebook, and you are overcharging and limiting your user base by doing this.

    If you need people

    • I can't get the benefits I get from Facebook in any other way. It's the network effect.

    • Just because the ask you to use your real name doesn't mean you have to.
      I have a couple of FB accounts with nothing on them, and that I never log onto, purely for using on those websites that want to use FB accounts to log in with.
  • The freedom to say or post what you want is protected. The freedom to do so on Facebook (a website owned by a company that isn't you) is not protected.
  • Facebook sucks. You can post any old shit on Slashdot, and it always had a Dislike button (we call it Mod -1 Troll, but it is the same thing).

    Here you have freedom to let your inner Troll run free! Many here think I am a complete asshole, but Slashdot keeps giving me mod points for my "contributions". It's so empowering!

  • something. I had to spend hours trying to find a contact form where I could attach a screen shot of 1 star reviews on my FB business page that stated I sell weed at my store from several fake accounts Found some forms but they would not post finally found one. Got a reply a few days ago basically saying nothing and to block those people. Well that's great but still wont remove reviews that say I well weed I my store.

    Since I already spend $750 advertising on FB I decided to keep my page for now and disable t

    • Seriously social media is useless for small business.

      You say that as if it is new information. FB has always sucked, and always will.

    • something. I had to spend hours trying to find a contact form where I could attach a screen shot of 1 star reviews on my FB business page that stated I sell weed at my store from several fake accounts Found some forms but they would not post finally found one. Got a reply a few days ago basically saying nothing and to block those people. Well that's great but still wont remove reviews that say I well weed I my store.

      Since I already spend $750 advertising on FB I decided to keep my page for now and disable the reviews. Once my site is finished I'll be removing the FB for good same with Google+ Not sure what they did but the page I keep up to date synched with FB posts no longer shows on searches but a new one I didn't create is showing with no page updates.

      Seriously social media is useless for small business. I'd get better results standing on a corner of a busy street giving out flyer.

      Dude, weed sells itself. Stop working so hard.

  • I wouldn't mind if it was just in public messages they blocked stuff. But since they censor private messages I don't even see it useful as a internet messenger.
  • You can't have it both ways surely? If they want to censor content then they have to accept that allowing other content is condoning it's message.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Facebook is a private service, not a public square. Stop depending on it thus.

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