Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and other vaccine critics are suing The Associated Press, Reuters, The Washington Post Company and the BBC for allegedly violating antitrust laws by collaborating with each other, and with large tech platforms, to suppress online posts relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The complaint, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, focuses on the “Trusted News Initiative” -- an industry effort that began more than two years ago in order to fight fake news about elections. The focus later was expanded to include combatting false information about COVID-19.
The Trusted News Initiative's roster of partners currently includes large media and tech companies, such as the BBC, AP, Google, Meta, Microsoft, Reuters, Twitter and The Washington Post. The new lawsuit only names four news organizations as defendants.
A Reuters spokesperson said the company had not yet been served with the complaint, but disputes any allegation that it violated antitrust laws.
“Reuters is, and always has been, committed to reporting news fairly and accurately in the public interest, including about the global COVID-19 pandemic,” the spokesperson stated.
A spokesperson for the Washington Post also said the lawsuit was "without merit."
Kennedy and other vaccine critics -- including Children's Health Defense (an organization he founded) and Joseph Mercola -- allege that they were “censored, de-monetized, demoted, throttled, shadow-banned, and/or excluded entirely from platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Linked-In” as a result of the Trusted News Initiative's work.
“While the 'Trusted News Initiative' publicly purports to be a self-appointed 'truth police' extirpating online 'misinformation,' in fact it has suppressed wholly accurate and legitimate reporting in furtherance of the economic self-interest of its members,” the complaint alleges.
Kennedy and the others accuse the Trusted News Initiative of suppressing reports that were “well within the ambit of legitimate reporting” -- for example, that COVID vaccines do not prevent infection.
The Children's Health Defense previously sued Meta for allegedly violating the First Amendment by suppressing the group's vaccine-related posts.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston in the Northern District of California dismissed the case in 2021. Like other judges in similar lawsuits against tech companies, she ruled that private companies don't violate the First Amendment by blocking users' speech, because the First Amendment only prohibits the government from suppressing speech based on viewpoint.
Children's Health Defense appealed that ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments in May. That court hasn't yet issued a decision.