Updates on Rima Najjar’s Case against Quora’s Censorship of Palestine Speech
Update: On Dec 31, 2019, my attorneys filed a suit against Quora in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The case is Merriman v. Quora Inc., 3:19-CV-08472.
Quora, a self-identified public forum, permanently banned me from the site because of hostility towards my political opinions and national origin, not in reliance on any neutral policies. I hope my case will make it easier for Palestinians and supporters of justice in Palestine to speak freely on social media. Read the complaint here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1V3ZXFGNPHwfJPl5pJ1zIpsU6NPaibgz1/view?usp=sharing
I would like to thank Kapitan Law Office, without whom this suit would never have seen the light of day, my other attorney Dan Siegel, my brother Loai Najjar, who is financing this suit, and my comrade in arms Benay Blend for her courage and support.
For those interested in the legal basis of my complaint against Quora, the counts are:
COUNT I Unruh Civil Rights Act
62. Paragraphs 1 through 61 are incorporated by reference as if fully set out herein.
63. Quora is a “business establishment” within the meaning of Unruh.
64. Dr. Najjar was denied full and equal access to Quora because of her political opinions critiquing Zionism and affirming Palestinian national identity.
65. She was also denied full and equal access because of her ancestry and national origin.
66. Quora’s stated reasons for permanently banning her from the site are pretext for its hostility towards her political points of view and to her national identity.
67. In applying its “Be Nice, Be Respectful” policy to content about Israel/Palestine, Quora does not employ an objective standard, but uses as its main criterion the extent to which the content offends Zionist sensibilities.
COUNT II Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
68. Paragraphs 1 through 67 are incorporated by reference as if fully set out herein.
69. Quora is a “place of public accommodation” within the meaning of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
70. Quora denied Dr. Najjar full enjoyment of its services and privileges because of her national origin.
News reports on my complaint in order of appearance:
By Peter Blumberg
January 1, 2020, 12:58 AM EST
Refusing to be Silenced: How Rima Najjar’s Suit Against Quora Could Change the Space of Social Media
Quora says, the algorithm did it!
On June 3, Nada Elia published an article in Mondoweiss titled Palestinian academic sues Quora, saying she was banned from the website for criticizing Zionism, in which she wrote:
Quora’s headquarters are in California, and Najjar’s attorney, [Rima] Kapitan, notes in her letter to Quora’s management that:
“California’s public accommodations law provides “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever” regardless of “national origin.” This Act applies to websites, since they are “a kind of business establishment and an accommodation, advantage, facility, and privilege of a place of public accommodation, respectively. No nexus to [a] physical [place] need be shown.”
Kapitan then documents how “Quora has denied equal privileges to Dr. Rima Najjar because of her national origin — Palestinian. Starting on May 2, 2019, Quora permanently banned her from the site, claiming she engaged in ‘hate speech’ for using the term ‘Zionist’ because she views Zionism in a negative way. Quora claims to be enforcing its ‘Be Nice, Be Respectful’ policy, but Dr. Najjar can show that the policy is enforced against her because of her advocacy for the national rights of Palestinians, and that the policy is not enforced in the same way against non-Palestinians.”
Among other demands she is making, Najjar is asking for her account to be reinstated, for Quora to issue a public statement affirming that opposition to Zionism is not “hate speech,” and for Quora to change its moderation policies, so that answers are not “collapsed” because of readers’ complaints, but rather because they violate the forum’s “Be Nice, Be Respectful” policy. Quora’s management has until June 10 to settle out of court.
Whatever the outcome, this is an important precedent for Palestine rights and other grassroots activists, as it legally challenges censorship in a space that has played a critical role in documenting abuse, social mobilizing, and political organizing, and shaping the public discourse.
I have since heard back from Roger of Quora User Operations, not from Quora’s General Counsel Karen Kramer, to whom the letter was addressed. Quora’s response addressed only one part of the demand in the Damages section of the letter, that of reinstatement, as though the letter were “an appeal” to lift the ban and nothing more. Roger turned down that demand on the basis that I had multiple violations and added:
Please note that bans such as this are the result of an algorithm based on multiple determinations that an author violated policy, each of which is made without any knowledge of any prior history of policy violations.
My attorney responded to Roger with: “‘You claim that ‘bans such as this are the result of an algorithm based on multiple determinations that an author violated policy, each of which is made without any knowledge of any prior history of policy violations.’ Whether or not that is true for other permanent bans, it most certainly was not the case for Dr. Najjar. As Quora admitted and as I explained in my letter, human beings at Quora reviewed the propriety of her permanent ban and determined to keep it in place.”
Next step is to sue.
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.