Judge Dismisses Activist's Free Speech Claims Against Facebook

A federal judge has thrown out claims against Facebook by an Egyptian activist who alleged that the company suppressed his speech.

“Because Facebook is a private entity and because plaintiff has failed to show that Facebook should be treated as a state actor, plaintiff has failed to state a First Amendment claim,” U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton in the Northern District of California said in a ruling issued Thursday.

Hamilton's ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed last year by Arizona resident Sadek Raouf Ebeid, a medical doctor born in Egypt who advocated on Facebook to recall former British Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson.

He alleged that Facebook repeatedly suspended his account, prevented him from joining groups (including one called “Friends of Dr. Sadek Raouf Ebeid”), and marked his posts as spam.

Facebook reversed its decisions on “numerous occasions” after Ebeid protested, but then marked other, similar posts as spam, according to his complaint.

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Among other claims, Ebeid alleged that Facebook's moves violated the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from censoring speech.

Hamilton dismissed that claim with prejudice, ruling that Facebook doesn't violate the First Amendment by censoring posts because the company isn't a government entity. She also said Facebook's decisions about content are protected by the the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes web platforms from liability for removing posts by users.

Ebeid, who says he paid Facebook to “boost” his posts, also claimed the company broke its contract with him and engaged in fraud. He alleged that in the past, his boosted posts reached 100,000 people, but said that number was drastically reduced in April and May of 2018.

Hamilton threw out those claims as well, ruling that Ebeid didn't allege he was charged for posts that weren't boosted. The dismissal of the claims related to boosting was “without prejudice,” meaning that Ebeid can amend his complaint regarding those allegations and try again.

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