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  • Khushboo Pareek

Meta required by law to allow users control their feed, claims fresh lawsuit

A lawsuit filed against Meta contends that US law mandates the company to permit users to utilise unofficial add-ons to control "what they see online."

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on behalf of researcher Ethan Zuckerman, seeks to leverage federal law, traditionally shielding social networks, to compel transparency from Meta.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is widely recognised for granting social media companies immunity from legal responsibility for content posted on their platforms.

However, Zuckerman's lawsuit contends that a subsection of the law provides users with the authority to regulate their internet access and the tools they employ for this purpose.

The legal action is the latest development in Meta's ongoing conflicts with researchers and developers regarding tools offering additional privacy options or collecting research data.

If successful, the lawsuit could pave the way for researchers to release add-ons facilitating studies on how social platform algorithms impact users and my grant them greater control over algorithmic influences in their lives.

"Section 230 (c) (2) (b) is quite explicit about libraries, parents, and others having the ability to control obscene or other unwanted content on the internet," Zuckerman said. "I actually think that anticipates having control over a social network like Facebook, having this ability to sort of say, 'We want to be able to opt out of the algorithm.'"

Zuckerman's lawsuit seeks to stop Facebook from blocking his new browser extension, Unfollow Everything 2.0. The extension enables users to effortlessly "unfollow" friends, groups, and pages on Facebook, thereby removing their updates from the user's newsfeed.

He argues that this gives users the ability to adjust or essentially disable Facebook's engagement-driven feed. While users can technically achieve this without the tool, it requires manually unfollowing each friend, group, and page individually.

Sophia Cope of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) notes that while Section 230 has seen numerous cases clarifying platforms' liability for user-generated content, few address the aspect targeted by Zuckerman's lawsuit.

"There isn’t that much case law on that section of the law, so it will be interesting to see how a judge breaks it down," said Cope, according to Wired.

"Given Meta’s history, I could see why he would want a preemptive judgment," she said, adding, "he'd be immunised against any civil claim brought against him by Meta."

Zuckerman acknowledges that his case might take years to resolve in court, but to him it "feels like a particularly compelling case to do at a moment where people are really concerned about the power of algorithms."


Image Source: Unsplash


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