Class actions over COVID-19 certified against Google and Facebook

Two separate but related class actions were recently certified by Quebec Superior Court against tech behemoths Google and Meta for allegedly breaching Quebecers’ freedom of expression by censoring or making content directly or indirectly related to COVID-19 unaccessible.

In the suit against Google, class action representative plaintiff Éloïse Boies, who operates a YouTube channel “Élo veut savoir,” alleges that several of her videos that claimed that governments and large companies were censoring information about COVID-19 were deleted.  The videos apparently violated the platform’s policies for propagating “incorrect medical information contradicting that of local health authorities or the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding COVID-19.” Boies is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for anyone who, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, suffered censorship of their videos by YouTube, as well as to anyone who was unable to view these same videos.

A similar claim was made against Meta Platforms, owner of Facebook, by Christian Leray, an administrator of the Facebook group Réinfo Québec, an organization of professionals, mainly from the healthcare sector, dedicated to informing the public about the Covid-19 pandemic. Postings by Leray and the group that called into question COVID-19 public health measures were deleted by Facebook, a decision Facebook maintains was justified because it has a policy that prohibits misinformation that could cause physical harm, relays false information about COVID-19 or because information is at odds with its “community standards.” Leray, like Boies, too is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Lukasz Granosik dismissed arguments by the tech giants. Both Google and Facebook maintained that the class actions should not be certified because the class action representatives do not present a defensible case and therefore cannot adequately represent the group. Google added that there are no common issues, but a bundle of eminently individual cases, which makes a class action inadmissible in this case.

“If Facebook…controls the content that finds its way onto its platform, it cannot deny all responsibility,” held Justice Granosik in Leray c. Meta Platforms inc., 2024 QCCS 1513. “If it carries out censorship, prevents certain people from posting certain information, punishes them by restricting access to their account and thus hinders the free circulation of ideas, it exposes itself to having to defend its ways. Its decision may be well-founded, and it may not incur any liability, but the question arises and it is clear that the plaintiff has a simple possibility of success on the merits.”

Justice Granosik came to an identical conclusion in Boies c. Google, 2024 QCCS 1512.

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