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Robert F. Kennedy Jr sues media outlets over misinformation initiative

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr and other anti-vaccine activists have filed suit against several media outlets that have banded together to fight misinformation./AFP
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Jan 16, 2023 - 02:55 AM

WASHINGTON — Robert F. Kennedy Jr, son of the slain US presidential candidate, and other anti-vaccine activists have filed a lawsuit against several news organizations that have banded together to fight misinformation.

The nearly 100-page complaint, filed this week in a US District Court in Texas, accuses the media outlets and social media companies of colluding to censor other online publishers with alternative Covid narratives.

Besides Kennedy, the plaintiffs include an organization he founded, Children’s Health Defense, right-wing news organizations that have promoted anti-vaccine theories and physicians who are prominent Covid and vaccine skeptics.

The named defendants in the suit are The Washington Post, the BBC, the Associated Press and Reuters.

The media outlets are members of the Trusted News Initiative (TNI), a partnership between news organizations and technology companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube and Linked-In.

Agence France-Presse is also a member of TNI, whose stated goal is to “tackle harmful disinformation.”

The suit accuses the media companies of collaborating to “exclude” rival news publishers whose work “challenges and competes with TNI members’ reporting on certain issues relating to Covid-19 and US politics.”

“Federal antitrust law has its own name for this kind of ‘industry partnership’: it’s called a ‘group boycott,'” the complaint said.

It claimed the plaintiffs have been “censored, de-monetized, demoted, throttled, shadow-banned, and/or excluded entirely from platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Linked-In.”

“While the ‘Trusted News Initiative’ publicly purports to be a self-appointed ‘truth police’ extirpating online ‘misinformation,’ in fact it has suppressed wholly accurate and legitimate reporting in furtherance of the economic self-interest of its members,” the suit alleges.

Among the plaintiffs are outlets and individuals who have been branded the “Disinformation Dozen” by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. The nonprofit has said the online “anti-vaxxers” are responsible for a “tidal wave of disinformation.”

Kennedy, 68, whose father Bobby was assassinated in 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, became a face of the anti-vaccine movement after promoting the medically discredited theory that vaccines cause autism.

Kennedy and the other plaintiffs are seeking a trial by jury, unspecified damages and an order preventing TNI from “continuing to work with Internet companies to boycott and censor other online news publishers.”

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