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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Facebook Immune for Blocking Sikhs’ Page

SAN JOSE (CN) - Facebook is immune from claims that it discriminated against the Sikhs for Justice human rights group by blocking access to its Facebook page in India, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh on Friday agreed with Facebook that the group's claims of religious discrimination are precluded under the Communications Decency Act, which protects providers of "interactive computer services" by barring courts from treating service providers like Facebook as the publishers or speakers of speech created by others.

In its June lawsuit, Sikhs for Justice said it believed Facebook shut down its social media page at the request of the Indian government, because of its outspoken campaign against government persecution of Sikhs, a religious minority.

The group learned in May that its Facebook page had been blocked in India. It said its legal adviser Gurpatwant Singh Pannun received no meaningful answer from Facebook after he sent an email asking why it was blocked, and demanding that access be restored.

Sikhs for Justice sought a permanent injunction ordering Facebook to stop restricting access, and any documents or correspondence with the Indian government related to a request that Facebook block its page.

In dismissing the case, Koh said she relied on Barnes v. Yahoo! Inc., in which the Ninth Circuit found that Yahoo! was immune under the Communications Decency Act from a woman's claims that it was negligent in failing to remove fake personal profiles about her that her ex-boyfriend set up, which included nude photos and solicitations for sex.

"In the instant case, plaintiff argues that defendant had a duty under Title II not to discriminate against plaintiff. However, the act that defendant allegedly conducted in a discriminatory manner is the removal of the SFJ Page in India," Koh wrote. Citing Barnes, she added: "But removing content is something publishers do, and to impose liability on the basis of such conduct necessarily involves treating the liable party as a publisher."

Koh said that while Sikhs for Justice contends that it seeks only an explanation for the blocked page, it "cites no authority requiring such relief," and "the CDA bars all claims that seek to hold an interactive computer service liable as a publisher of third-party content. Further, plaintiff seeks not just an explanation for defendant's action, but damages and an injunction requiring defendant to restore access to the SFJ Page in India."

In an interview Tuesday, Pannun vowed to appeal the ruling.

"We are going to go all the way and make sure this ruling gets challenged," Pannun said. "If Facebook is a public company making billions of dollars in public money and they don't want to give any explanation for why they blocked the content of a human rights group, then what is the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship?"

Pannun said that Koh should have at least ordered that Facebook give SFJ an explanation as to who ordered the take down.

"Right now we are going to appeal this decision for sure. We are not going to just let Facebook have their way, use public money and not give the public any explanation."

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