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Facebook Files Anti-SLAPP Motion Against Defunct App Developer Who Sued Over Revamp Of Facebook's App Platform

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Back at the end of 2018, a defunct Swedish app developer sued Facebook for the changes the company made to its app platform. As detailed by Cyrus Farivar (then at Ars Technica), it appeared that the lawsuit was somehow connected to the more high profile case filed by the developer of a sketchy bikini-spotting app, "Pikini," Six4Three. At issue was that after Facebook realized that various apps were abusing the access the Facebook platform gave them to suck up data (a la Cambridge Analytica), Facebook drastically scaled back the platform and changed overall directions. Six4Three is fighting to argue that somehow Facebook owed it to developers to keep its platform open.This other company, Styleform IT, seemed to jump on board with a lawsuit that had some striking similarities to the Six4Three suit -- including sharing some of the same lawyers. Either way, Farivar alerts us to the latest in the case, which is that Facebook has filed an anti-SLAPP claim against Styleform IT, arguing that its attempt to sue Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg over the company's moderation choices violate, first, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows for Facebook to choose to moderate its platform however it wishes, and that the lawsuit itself is predicated on a 1st Amendment-violating effort to stifle Facebook's expressive decisions.

This case is an attack on Defendants' Facebook, Inc.'s and Mark Zuckerberg's free speech rightsand should be stricken pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16. Defendants bringthis motion because Plaintiff Styleform IT's claims in the First Amended Complaint (FAC) all turn onone constitutionally protected decision: Facebook's editorial decision to stop publishing certain usergeneratedcontent to third party app developers via the Facebook Platform.The fatal flaw is that Facebook, through its employees and executives including Mr. Zuckerberg,has a right to make editorial decisions as to what third-party content to publish through its Platform. TheFacebook Platform is a free service available to third-party app developers through which developers couldask Facebook users who downloaded their app for consent to access content the user shared or could viewon Facebook, including content shared with the user by their friends, which Facebook would then publishto developers (through APIs), consistent with the user's privacy settings. Defendants madeand need tobe free to continue to makedecisions about what third-party content Facebook publishes through thePlatform to protect users' privacy and experience on the Platform. These decisions fall squarely within theanti-SLAPP statute because they are based on Defendants' conduct in furtherance of their constitutionalright to free speech on issues of public concern. Specifically, the eight causes of action asserted againstDefendants challenge editorial decisions about the third-party content Defendants publish to third-partyapp developers through its Platform. In a digital world, this is precisely the sort of editorial decision thatcourts regularly protect under the anti-SLAPP statute.
The filing notes that the overall case was put on hold for nearly a year after Styleform IT's original lawyers (those associated with Six4Three) withdrew from the case. Late last year, the company finally obtained new lawyers and the case is back on. As the filing notes, the case seems to pretty clearly merit an anti-SLAPP filing, as its entire purpose is an attempt to force Facebook to change its editorial practices.
Defendants' decision to de-publish certain categories of content created by its users was an exerciseof editorial discretion taken in furtherance of its constitutional right to free speech, and each of Styleform'sclaims arises from that exercise of editorial discretion.Lawsuits that target a platform operator's editorial discretion in the maintenance of its forum areindisputably based on conduct in furtherance of free speech rights [on matters of public concern] and mustwithstand scrutiny under California's anti-SLAPP statute.
It seems pretty straightforward that Facebook is correct about this, and Styleform IT probably should lose on anti-SLAPP grounds (and Section 230 grounds, for that matter).However, given just how much general hatred there is of Facebook right now, and the knee-jerk reaction that many have to assume that Facebook must always be on the wrong side of any legal dispute -- I wonder if people will freak out about this particular filing. However, remember that the reason that Facebook made such significant changes to its platform was because of serious concerns with how the original platform could be used to reveal private info about Facebook users. The whole thing put Facebook in a no win situation. Closing that platform meant pissing off developers who relied on it. Leaving it open meant risking more privacy breaches. Given that situation, it seems pretty clear that Facebook's decision was the much more sensible one here, even if it upset a few developers (whose own apps seemed pretty limited in usefulness anyway).

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China Bans 'Plague Inc.' Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

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Unless you're somehow living in a cabin without electricity somewhere (in which case, how are you even reading this, bro?), you've heard all about the coronavirus. The virus is the subject of roughly all the news and at least half of our brainwaves these days, with an unfortunate amount of misinformation and spin floating around far too many governments and media. Some folks, such as social media groups used by law enforcement types, seem to think this is all a joke. Others, such as our very own United States Senate, seem to think an illness infecting and killing thousands is the perfect excuse to reauthorize surveillance powers by those same law enforcement types.China, meanwhile, isn't fucking around. While there is some analysis to do as to whether the country did enough in the early stages of the outbreak, not to mention whether it tried to downplay risks and silence dire warnings in a gamble to keep its economy going, there is no question that eventually it went full on heavy-handed to combat the virus. Since then, quarantines of metropolitan cities have been put in place, travel restrictions abound, and shutdowns of commercial and public services are the norm.But China's still gonna China, meaning the government is also banning a popular mobile game about infecting humanity with sicknesses after it surged in popularity in the country.

In a statement, Ndemic Creations said: "We have some very sad news to share with our China-based players. We've just been informed that Plague Inc. 'includes content that is illegal in China as determined by the Cyberspace Administration of China' and has been removed from the China App Store. This situation is completely out of our control."It's not clear to us if this removal is linked to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that China is facing. However, Plague Inc.'s educational importance has been repeatedly recognised by organisations like the CDC [Centre for Disease Control and Prevention] and we are currently working with major global health organisations to determine how we can best support their efforts to contain and control Covid-19."
Let's be clear: this is absolutely about the coronavirus. Let's also be clear: this is China trying desperately to control the sentiments and minds of its population. I've played Plague Inc. It's great. It's also a game about inhabiting an anthropomorphic virus/bacteria/illness and developing or evolving that illness to literally kill all of humanity on literally all of the planet. That, to put it mildly, could strike the average person as somewhat morbid in the context of a world now dealing with coronavirus.On the other hand, the only reason China is taking this action is because Plague Inc. went wild in terms of popularity in China after the virus outbreak. China saw that as a problem and is trying to ban it to death. The reality, it seems, is that Plague Inc. actually makes it clear how hard it is for outbreaks to spread and can be therapeutic to those worried about pandemics.
It said that it was "devastated" for its Chinese players, adding that the game "encourages players to think and learn more about serious public health issues".Plague Inc. has become a huge hit since it was launched eight years ago. It now has 130 million players worldwide and soared in popularity in China amid the coronavirus outbreak, becoming the bestselling app in the country in January. Some players suggested they were downloading the game as a way to cope with fears surrounding the virus.
Games can be a lot of things to a lot of people. They can be therapy. They can be entertainment. They can be education.What they can't be, no matter the Chinese government's actions, is dangerous in the context of coronavirus.

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