SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – In what is viewed as a victory for social media platforms, Facebook has been granted an Anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) motion, which also led to dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a country rapper.
Jason Cross, who performs under the stage name Mikel Knight, sued the website in 2016 for several causes of action, including breach of contract and negligent interference with prospective economic relations.
The 1st Appellate District, Division Two of the California Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 9 in an appeal from San Mateo County Superior Court that the suit should be remanded to trial court to strike the complaint and award Facebook attorney fees.
Cross’ claims stem from issues caused for him by a Facebook page called "Families Against Mikel Knight." The page was allegedly formed in the wake of two auto accidents caused by what was viewed as his poor marketing strategy as those involved in the accidents were contractors he’d hired to drive across country on reportedly little sleep to sell CDs. Cross had sued because Facebook would not remove the page.
Facebook filed a motion to dismiss, "arguing that they arose from protected activity and that plaintiffs could not show a probability of prevailing on any of them," the appellate court decision states.
"The trial court held that the complaint was based on protected activity, that plaintiffs could not prevail on the first three causes of action, and granted the anti-SLAPP motion as to them. The trial court denied the motion as to the three other causes of action - claims alleging statutory and common law claims for violation of Knight's right of publicity, along with a derivative unfair competition law (UCL) claim - concluding that Knight had shown a probability of prevailing on them," the appellate court decision states.
“This is not a nice person, from what I’ve been able to find,” Paul Alan Levy, a Washington D.C.-based attorney who represents an anonymous individual in proceedings involving Cross, told Legal Newsline.
In an interview with Legal Newsline, Levy describes the conditions in which the marketing contractors were required to operate, including having to use Walmart bathrooms to wash up and being required to sleep in a van to sell CDs over-week long assignments where 18-hour days were reportedly the norm.
When it comes to the legal victory, Levy is pleased that it solidifies Section 230.
“It’s certainly an important decision,” he states. “The trial judge’s ruling was scary for consumers who want to be able to use platforms like Facebook to express their objections to the doings of politicians and businesses.”
Section 230 of the CDA allows for internet platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to not be held accountable for the content published on their websites by users. It allows individual websites to use their discretion when determining what they will and will not tolerate as part of their terms and conditions.
Many critics of the CDA believe that the laws are outdated having been written in a time before everyone with access to a computer or mobile device could post and send whatever they desired, but Levy disagrees.
“What Section 230 says to people who are unhappy about being criticized like Mr. Knight is to not sue the platform, sue the user,” he said.
However, Section 230 also allows for platforms to not identify the users in question which can protect them in cases where the person being criticized is viewed as dangerous and capable of harm.