Siding with Meta Platforms, a federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit alleging that the company wrongly banned ads on Facebook for the Holocaust-related movie “Beautiful Blue Eyes."
In a ruling issued Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge James Donato in the Northern District of California said Meta was protected from several claims in the lawsuit by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Donato said in the ruling that Section 230 immunizes platforms from liability for publishing third-party content as well as rejecting such content.
The decision stems from a lawsuit filed in October by father and son Joshua and Alexander Newton, who reside in the United Kingdom.
Joshua Newton wrote and directed “Beautiful Blue Eyes,” which starred the late Roy Scheider, while Alexander acted in the movie and wrote and performed its theme song. The Newtons alleged that Meta misclassified the film as “hate speech,” and banned pre-release advertising on that basis.
“Had Facebook properly reviewed the film and the song it would have seen that Beautiful Blue Eyes legitimately depicts events of the Holocaust, does not violate Facebook’s Community Standards and does not constitute hate speech,” the complaint alleged.
After the film's September 2022 opening, Meta reversed its decision. But the move came too late, according to the complaint.
“The advertising campaign for Beautiful Blue Eyes, as with many films, was centered on Facebook and Instagram ads,” the complaint alleged. “Beautiful Blue Eyes did not generate the enthusiasm it would have, had the ads been permitted to timely run.”
The Newtons claimed Meta breached its contract with them by failing to properly apply its Community Standards, caused emotional distress and engaged in fraud. Donato found the claims for breach of contract and emotional distress barred by Section 230.
“These claims are based entirely on the allegation that Facebook declined to post plaintiffs’ content,” Donato wrote.
“That is a quintessential publishing decision for which Facebook is 'perforce immune,'” he added, quoting a phrase used by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008, when it said Section 230 shields web companies from liability for rejecting users' posts.
Donato dismissed the fraud claim on the grounds that the allegations were too vague to warrant further proceedings.
The ruling allows the Newtons to beef up the complaint and file it again.