A federal judge denied Meta and OnlyFans’ motions to dismiss a class action lawsuit against the company on Wednesday. The case, filed in California federal court, alleges that Meta executives accepted bribes in exchange for preferentially allowing OnlyFans’ creators and their links to remain on its platforms while blacklisting the subscription video site’s competitors.
Both OnlyFans’ parent company, Fenix Internet, and Meta filed motions to dismiss the suit, claiming there was no credible evidence against them. Presiding Judge William Alsup disagreed, however, writing, “Plaintiffs’ claims are plausible. To the extent defendants argue that plaintiffs’ factual allegations are unreliable, that will be tested in discovery.”
In the denial, the judge cited a whistleblower report alleging widespread bribery at Meta, which the social media giant received six months before the suit was filed, and an email purporting to show wire transfers between OnlyFans and Meta executives. Both were first reported by Gizmodo.
Judge Alsup also disagreed with the basis of Meta’s dismissal request, which cited Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that protects internet providers from being treated as publishers, the First Amendment, and a thin legal precedent that companies aren’t liable for their employee’s actions.
“Meta defendants argue they are not liable for the acts of their employees who allegedly participated in the anticompetitive conduct. This order disagrees. It is premature to conclude that those accepting bribes were involved in a frolic of their own so as to immunize Meta itself,” wrote the judge.
OnlyFans declined to comment.
Three Meta employees: Nick Clegg, Nicola Mendelsohn, and Cristian Perrella were “inadvertently” named in the class action lawsuit brought by three adult entertainers against Meta (including subsidiaries Facebook and Instagram), Fenix Internet, and other related parties. In the suit, the plaintiffs claim that Meta accepted money in exchange for blacklisting adult entertainers posting on its platforms independently or affiliated with any site other than OnlyFans, while exempting OnlyFans creators from porn-banning moderation algorithms.
Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that Meta employees demoted or deleted their accounts and posts on Instagram and Facebook, and also internally listed them as “dangerous individuals or organizations”—a designation generally reserved for removing “terrorist content.” The point to a period of time in 2018 when 100 accounts that drove traffic to OnlyFans competitors were taken down.
As evidence of their claims, the plaintiffs filed, among other things, an email they say documents wire transfer payments from Fenix International to trust accounts listed under Meta executives’ names. And six month prior to the lawsuit, Facebook received a whistleblower complaint alerting the company to activities very similar to those described in the court filings against Meta and OnlyFans.
“Certain employees are taking bribes to protect OnlyFans on the platform. This has been going on for months if not years,” the whistleblower report stated.
Meta initially made vague statements redirecting blame for the allegations and downplaying the company’s responsibility but later issued a firm denial. Responding to the whistleblower complaint, a Meta spokesperson first told Gizmodo in late October, “These claims are false, there is not a shred of evidence to back them up, and reporting out these claims that lack any evidence is irresponsible.”
The company repeated most of that statement to Gizmodo in an e-mail sent Thursday. A Meta spokesperson also added, “We’re confident we’ll win this case.”
Update 12/1/2022, 3:59 p.m. ET: This post has been updated with additional statement from a Meta spokesperson.