Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Reduced Web Traffic Does Not Confer Standing

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit against Rep. Adam Schiff

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons appeals the dismissal of its complaint for lack of Article III standing. The Association, joined by an individual, sued a Member of Congress who wrote to several technology and social media companies before and during the COVID-19 pandemic expressing concern about vaccine related misinformation on their platforms and inquiring about the companies’ policies for handling such misinformation. The Association, which purveys vaccine-related information online, alleged that the inquiries prompted the technology companies to disfavor and deprioritize its vaccine content, thereby reducing traffic to its web page and making the information more difficult to access. Because appellants have not established that they have standing, the court affirms the dismissal of the complaint.

Causation on reduced web traffic

Yet appellants’ allegations have not presented a plausible account of causation. Even assuming the Association’s content was indeed demoted in search results and on social media platforms, the technology companies may have taken those actions for any number of reasons unrelated to Representative Schiff. Appellants offer no causal link that suggests it was an isolated inquiry by a single Member of Congress that prompted policy changes across multiple unrelated social media platforms. The timeline of events in the amended complaint also undermines any possibility that the companies acted at Representative Schiff’s behest in particular.

Circuit Judge Rogers authored the opinion. (Mike Frisch)


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