Former Fox Business host John Stossel is suing Facebook, alleging that the social media company and one of its contracted fact-checking organizations defamed him when it flagged two of his videos, alerting viewers to “missing context” and “partly false” claims.
The lawsuit also claims that Stossel’s professional reputation has been “significantly and irreparably damaged by the false labels and statements.”
Since Stossel left Fox Business, he’s been releasing videos on various social platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. The endeavor has apparently been somewhat lucrative—he has made around $10,000 a month from Facebook alone. “My news model is based on social media companies showing you videos,” he said on YouTube.
But when Facebook’s fact-checking label appeared on two videos, Stossel alleges that his ad revenue from the platform was cut by approximately 45 percent.
In the videos, Stossel, and others appearing alongside him, cast doubt on the severity of climate change. In one video, titled Are We All Doomed?, Stossel replays excerpts from a panel discussion he moderated for The Heartland Institute, which has received funding from fossil fuel companies and groups opposed to regulations on greenhouse gases. The panel consisted of three climate skeptics—meteorologist Patrick Michaels, geographer David Legates, and astrophysicist Willie Soon—who proceeded to question whether anthropogenic climate change is causing sea level rise or increasing the power of hurricanes.
In another, titled Government Fueled Fires, Stossel discusses whether forest management practices or climate change were driving severity of California’s recent fire seasons, interviewing author Michael Shellenberger on the matter. Shellenberger is a self-proclaimed environmental activist who writes about “environmental alarmism” and claims that climate change “is not even our most serious environmental problem.”
Both videos were fact-checked by Climate Feedback, a subsidiary of French fact-checking organization and Facebook partner Science Feedback. The group found that Stossel’s climate change video contained “partly false information” because “speakers in the video rely on several inaccurate claims and use imprecise language that misleads viewers about the scientific understanding of climate change.”
The California fire season video, on the other hand, was labeled “missing context” because it “misrepresents a complex reality” by focusing on how forest fire suppression over the 20th century led to catastrophic fire conditions while downplaying the significance of climate change. “Scientific studies demonstrate clear links between climate change, hotter and drier conditions, and an increase in dry vegetative fuel load, drastically increasing the amount of forest fire area in the western US,” Climate Feedback wrote in its assessment.
“Misrepresentation of our process”
To bolster their argument in the lawsuit, Stossel’s lawyers point out that two of the experts cited in the review of the California fire season video initially didn’t watch the video, which the reviewers confirmed when Stossel interviewed them. However, in 2020, Climate Feedback says that Stossel’s claim of an inappropriate review “is based on a misrepresentation of our process, and of the assessments of the scientists who contributed to this review.” Indeed, the Climate Feedback page and versions available on Archive.org clearly state that, when the organization is reviewing claims similar to others that have previously been assessed, it will republish scientists’ prior statements on the matter.
Upon reviewing the video in question, both experts interviewed by Stossel said that the Facebook fact-check label was appropriately applied.
Stossel claims that the fact-check labels have prevented him from reposting the California fire season video, which, for example, “would have resulted in another approximately 1.2 million views and the associated ad revenue from those views.”
We have reached out to Facebook and Climate Feedback for comment and will update this story if we hear from them.