Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sues Meta, citing chatbot’s reply as evidence of shadowban

Screenshot from the documentary <em>Who Is Bobby Kennedy?</em>
Enlarge / Screenshot from the documentary Who Is Bobby Kennedy?

In a lawsuit that seems determined to ignore that Section 230 exists, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has sued Meta for allegedly shadowbanning his million-dollar documentary, Who Is Bobby Kennedy? and preventing his supporters from advocating for his presidential campaign.

According to Kennedy, Meta is colluding with the Biden administration to sway the 2024 presidential election by suppressing Kennedy’s documentary and making it harder to support Kennedy’s candidacy. This allegedly has caused “substantial donation losses,” while also violating the free speech rights of Kennedy, his supporters, and his film’s production company, AV24.

Meta had initially restricted the documentary on Facebook and Instagram but later fixed the issue after discovering that the film was mistakenly flagged by the platforms’ automated spam filters.

But Kennedy’s complaint claimed that Meta is still “brazenly censoring speech” by “continuing to throttle, de-boost, demote, and shadowban the film.” In an exhibit, Kennedy’s lawyers attached screenshots representing “hundreds” of Facebook and Instagram users whom Meta allegedly sent threats, intimidated, and sanctioned after they shared the documentary.

Some of these users remain suspended on Meta platforms, the complaint alleged. Others whose temporary suspensions have been lifted claimed that their posts are still being throttled, though, and Kennedy’s lawyers earnestly insisted that an exchange with Meta’s chatbot proves it.

Two days after the documentary’s release, Kennedy’s team apparently asked the Meta AI assistant, “When users post the link, can their followers see the post in their feeds?”

“I can tell you that the link is currently restricted by Meta,” the chatbot answered.

Chatbots, of course, are notoriously inaccurate sources of information, and Meta AI’s terms of service note this. In a section labeled “accuracy,” Meta warns that chatbot responses “may not reflect accurate, complete, or current information” and should always be verified.

Perhaps more significantly, there is little reason to think that Meta’s chatbot would have access to information about internal content moderation decisions.

Techdirt’s Mike Masnick mocked Kennedy’s reliance on the chatbot in the case. He noted that Kennedy seemed to have no evidence of the alleged shadow-banning, while there’s plenty of evidence that Meta’s spam filters accidentally remove non-violative content all the time.

Meta’s chatbot is “just a probabilistic stochastic parrot, repeating a probable sounding answer to users’ questions,” Masnick wrote. “And these idiots think it’s meaningful evidence. This is beyond embarrassing.”

Neither Meta nor Kennedy’s lawyer, Jed Rubenfeld, responded to Ars’ request to comment.

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