Setting the Record Straight
Rolling Stone’s Dishonest “Hit Job” Against MeWe
On May 23, 2019, Rolling Stone published an article about MeWe that contained so many falsehoods and was so overtly biased, it’s hard to believe it made it out of the drafts folder. As a longtime reader and fan of Rolling Stone, I was astonished and disappointed that the magazine would release such an unprofessional and misleading piece.
The article was a strange, unwarranted, “hit job” full of untruths, grossly mischaracterizing MeWe and its members, appearing to be a vendetta by their journalist who had previously written about vaccine discussions on social media and was offended that MeWe would allow law and TOS-abiding people to discuss their opinions about vaccines — pro and con — in the spirit of freedom of speech.
MeWe’s TOS is clear: haters, bullies, lawbreakers, and people promoting threats and violence are not welcome. The MeWe Trust and Safety Team works hard every day to remove them. However, if members want to have conversations about political points of view, or discuss the merits of various medical treatments, diets, exercise regimens, supplements, lifestyles, etc., it is not the role of a social media company to police such discussions. Censoring them would run contrary to MeWe’s core values. The premise of democracy is the freedom to discuss issues. Here is an article I wrote on this topic: Social Media Biggies vs. Remarkable Upstart MeWe on Free Speech
Current mainstream social networks harvest our data, destroy our true privacy, manipulate our newsfeeds and our minds, and facilitate election interference and the disruption of democracies worldwide. MeWe is a force for good in the world. There are no ads, no targeting, no newsfeed manipulation, and no way to “boost” any content to anyone. No entity can pay to target or promote an opinion to MeWe members — so no false beliefs or makeshift science etc. can be broadly promoted on MeWe. Instead, MeWe is where people worldwide have authentic communication with friends, family and common interest groups in the spirit of trust, control, safety and love.
When the Rolling Stone article came out, MeWe decided that the best response would be to just have the story disappear in a superseding flood of positive media coverage. In the months since, MeWe has received unbiased and fair coverage from top-tier media outlets such as TechCrunch, CNN, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fox Business, Fast Company, etc., and no reporter followed Rolling Stone down its rabbit hole — because it was not true. Alas, Google does not forget so quickly, and the article continues to occasionally pop up when people search about MeWe.
To set the record straight, here is the “Demand to Retract False and Inflammatory Article Pursuant to California Civil Code § 48a” that MeWe’s attorney served to Rolling Stone within a week of their article’s publication. It details the countless falsehoods and bias against MeWe.
Demand to Retract False and Inflammatory Article Pursuant to California Civil Code § 48a [excerpted]
Dear[Rolling Stone editors]:
As litigation counsel to MeWe, I write on behalf of MeWe and Mark Weinstein, CEO of MeWe.
An article entitled “Inside MeWe, the Playground for Anti-Vaxxers and Conspiracy Theorists” first appeared on Rolling Stone’s website on May 23, 2019. It contained numerous false statements about MeWe. Apparently realizing the article should not have been published, Rolling Stone voluntarily removed it an hour or two after it was published. A day and a half later, however, the article reappeared on the website with only minor changes to the original, and in substantially the same form.
The article claims that “one look at the groups on MeWe makes it evident that the vast majority of users skew toward the right-wing or even right-wing extremist end of the spectrum.” Contrary to the article’s portrayal, MeWe is home to thousands of groups and pages covering interests as diverse as health and fitness, sports, entertainment, politics, technology, food, and much more. And MeWe has quickly grown to approximately 7 million users. To suggest without evidence that the “vast majority” of these groups or users are “right-wing extremists,” is an outrageous slur directed not just to MeWe, but to the millions of users that use its platform daily.
Several specific problems with the article create this impression. The article’s title
outrageously claims that MeWe is a “playground for anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.” The article’s lead image found right below this title depicts white supremacists at the “Unite the Right” rally in Washington, D.C. The clear implication is that the photo was taken from the platform. But this stock photo has utterly nothing to do with MeWe. This is clickbait, clearly designed to inflame readers of the article against MeWe and the millions of users on its platform before they even begin reading.
Furthermore, the article mischaracterizes MeWe’s policing of conduct that violates its Terms of Service. The article states that “Weinstein takes pride in the fact that MeWe does not censor anyone, on any side of the political spectrum.” But as Mr. Weinstein told Rolling Stone, MeWe has a moderation team that actively enforces MeWe’s Terms of Service which prohibits “unlawful, harmful, obscene, or pornographic content,” in addition to any posts or groups that are “hateful, threatening, harmful, or incite violence.” MeWe promptly removes content that violates these Terms. The accusation that MeWe does not police its content is blatantly false.
While we of course understand that as a publisher Rolling Stone has legal rights, MeWe and Mr. Weinstein have legal rights too, and those rights have been violated. MeWe and Mr. Weinstein are currently considering and investigating claims under California law for defamation, trade libel, false light, and interference with prospective economic advantage. See Vegod Corp. v. American Broadcasting Cos., Inc., 25 Cal.3d 763, 770 (1979) ([A] corporation’s right and redress against defamation is well established.”); M.G. v. Time Warner, Inc., 89 Cal. App. 4th 623, 514–15 (2001); Redfearn v. Trader Joe’s Co., 20 Cal. App. 5th 989, 1005–08 (2018).
As Mr. Weinstein told Rolling Stone, he is a longtime fan of the publication. But this article should never have been published. We believe that it is, in part, motivated by animus from the article’s author. We understand the author previously criticized MeWe for refusing to censor conversations about vaccines on its platform. Personal disagreement with MeWe’s free speech philosophy does not justify the false statements and inflammatory implications of the article.
MeWe demands that the article be retracted and removed from Rolling Stone’s website immediately. MeWe reserves all rights and remedies.
Rolling Stone is protected by the First Amendment too, and they refused to pull the story. MeWe’s next move would have been to file a lawsuit for libel, but that would have been far too costly for the company at that time.
MeWe is a force for good in the world. It’s the fun, uplifting social network for friends, families and common interest groups to make positive connections in the spirit of trust, control and love. MeWe grew 126% in 2019, and expects to surpass 70 million members worldwide in 2020.