Federal communications law protects Facebook Inc. from liability for providing access to a social networking page that called for Muslims to rise up and kill Jews, a U.S. appeals court said in a ruling Friday.
Three years ago, Larry Klayman encountered a page on Facebook's social networking website entitled “Third Palestinian Intifada” that urged Muslims to rise up and kill the Jewish people on May 15, 2011, according to the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Larry Elliott Klayman v. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook Inc.
More than 360,000 Facebook users were members of the group, and there were three similar pages that attracted more than 7,000 members as well, according to the ruling.
At some point, Israel's Minister for Public Diplomacy wrote a letter to Menlo Park, California-based Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to request the Intifada pages' removal, said the ruling. Mr. Klayman said he also requested removal of the pages and that the pages were removed “many days” later.
Mr. Klayman, a Facebook user, subsequently sued Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg in U.S. District Court in Washington charging that their “insufficiently prompt” removal of the pages constituted intentional assault and negligent breach of a duty of care that Facebook allegedly owed to him, said the ruling.
Mr. Klayman, who sought more than $1 billion in compensatory and punitive damages, said the threat caused him “reasonable apprehension of severe bodily harm and/or death.”
The District Court granted Facebook's motion to dismiss the case based on the Communications Decency Act of 1996. A three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Circuit agreed.
The Communications Decency Act mandates dismissal of the lawsuit if Facebook is a “provider or user of an interactive computer service”; if the information at issue was provided by another information content provider; and if the complaint seeks to hold Facebook liable as the “publisher or speaker” of that information, said the ruling.
Facebook met all three prongs of that test, said the ruling. It qualified as an interactive computer service, and the information at issue was provided by third-party users, not Facebook itself, said the ruling. “Indeed, the complaint nowhere alleges or even suggests that Facebook provided, created, or developed any portion of the content that Klayman alleges harmed him,” said the ruling.
Furthermore, Facebook is protected from liability by the Communications Act as a publisher, said the appellate panel, noting that it expressly warns in its “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” that it is not responsible for third-party content.
“The plain text of the statement thus disavows the legal relationship that Klayman asserts,” said the panel, in upholding the lower court ruling dismissing the case.
In 2009, a California appeals court held the Communications Decency Act protected MySpace Inc. from liability in cases where a minor was sexually assaulted by an adult he or she met on its website.