Did Facebook Censor Based on an “Apparent forged court order”?

Facebook told the New Britain Progressive that it had removed from Facebook a post of a Progressive-published opinion piece four days after someone asked Google to “deindex” that same opinion piece. The request to Google was labeled a “Court Order Complaint”, using what UCLA School of Law Professor Eugene Volokh called an “Apparent forged court order” in an article he published on the matter in the editorially independentThe Volokh Conspiracy” portion of the Washington Post.

On March 20th, Facebook notified New Britain Progressive Executive Editor Rhona Cohen that,”We removed the post below because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards”, referring to an opinion piece by Bobby Berriault published by the New Britain Progressive that was critical of Ken Haas and calling for his removal as city Conservation Commissioner in the administration of Republican Mayor Erin Stewart.

The notification from Facebook came four days after a March 16th request by someone, in the name of Ken Haas, asking Facebook to “deindex” that same opinion piece. Sites that are “deindexed” by Google are removed from Google search results. Both the New Britain Progressive, itself, and the opinion piece do still appear in Google search results as of the publication of this article, therefore, it appears that Google did not deindex them.

Volokh notes that the request to Google to deindex the opinion piece published by the New Britain Progressive (formerly called the New Britain Independent) and a similar Change.org petition “was accompanied with what looked like a court order in Haas v. Berriault. The order purported to be in a libel and false light invasion of privacy lawsuit…” He added that, “The trouble is that there is no such case. There is no such court order. There is no Connecticut Superior Court Judge named John W. Darrah.”

Volokh also cited an Illinois case, presided over by federal Judge John W. Darrah, and noted that “The purported Haas v. Berriault order seems to copy some parts of the real Darrah order, including the case number, the general format of the title, some of the language and Darrah’s signature.”

There is no direct evidence available to the New Britain Progressive about why Facebook removed the post of the Progressive-published opinion piece. But Facebook has not responded to a request for comment about whether its reason for removing the post, on March 20th, was the same “apparent forged court order” sent to Google on March 16th.

Likewise, as Volokh pointed out, though the request to Google was in Haas’s name, “it is of course possible that this was done by someone else”, but he added that, “I called Haas to ask about what happened here, but he told me he had no comment.”

Update, 4/27/2017: A case has arisen, that is separate from the New Britain Progressive post Facebook told the Progressive that it had removed from Facebook, but relevant to this article.  After Facebook removed someone’s post of Prof. Volokh’s own article, and Prof. Volokh investigated the matter, Facebook restored that post, and expressed its apology. Volokh was also told by Facebook that they did not receive a forged document. Facebook has still not responded to repeated inquiries from the Progressive about whether the alleged court order sent to Google was also sent to Facebook as part of an effort to remove the New Britain Progressive-published article from Facebook.