By Joe Dworetzky
Bay City News Foundation
A 39-page complaint filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California uses the phrase “on information and belief,” a total of 34 times in asserting far-reaching claims by a class of adult entertainers against Meta Platforms Inc. and its subsidiaries, Instagram and Facebook.
The phrase “on information and belief” is a legal phrase that lawyers use in federal court when they want to allege something in a complaint that they believe to be true, but do not yet have all the facts to prove it.
The colorful class action suit was brought by three adult entertainers on behalf of themselves “and all others similarly situated.”
They allege that for many years they had business arrangements with various adult entertainment websites. When paying customers came to those sites and watched videos of the plaintiffs engaged in adult activity, the websites would share the payments with the entertainers.
Because of their financial stake in the viewership, the entertainers tried to drive traffic to the adult websites where their videos could be seen. An important tool was their presence on the major social media platforms, particularly Instagram and Facebook.
The entertainers worked to build up their views, likes and follows in the hope that those people would go to one of the sites where the entertainers’ videos could be viewed.
The complaint alleges that all worked well until late 2018 or early 2019. Until that point, “the online adult entertainment industry was a vibrant, competitive market.”
Plaintiff Dawn Dangaard a/k/a Alana Evans allegedly had more than 100,000 followers on Instagram at that time.
However, in October of 2018 the complaint alleges that a Florida resident named Leonid Radvinsky acquired ownership of a U.K. and Hong Kong registered company named Fenix International Limited.
Fenix, through a Delaware subsidiary headquartered in Florida, owned and operated “OnlyFans,” an adult entertainment website.
The complaint says that OnlyFans competed with the adult websites where plaintiffs’ videos were available.
After the acquisition, plaintiffs started to notice that their posts were being deleted or hidden on the social media apps they used to promote their work, resulting in a substantial drop in their traffic. The consequence was a corresponding drop of views of their videos on the adult websites they worked with.
The complaint alleges that even though the websites with plaintiffs’ videos experienced steadily decreasing traffic, visits to the OnlyFans platform grew dramatically. Charts included in the complaint show OnlyFans total monthly web traffic growing from less than 3 million to nearly 12 million from June 2019 to June 2021.
Similar charts show dramatic losses of traffic at several unidentified competing adult websites over the same period.
The complaint asserts that OnlyFans “quickly became one of the most dominant players in the adult industry” growing to be the 86th largest website in the United States and the “4th largest adult pay website in the world.”
The complaint alleges that OnlyFans growth resulted from it “gaining an enormous advantage over its competitors by wrongfully manipulating behind-the-scenes databases, and in the process harming thousands of small entrepreneurs who rely on social media….”
Liberally using the “on information and belief” qualifier, the complaint alleges a complicated scheme to “blacklist” the plaintiffs on social media platforms so that their web traffic would be dramatically reduced or eliminated.
The key to the scheme was allegedly a database initially created by several social media companies under the name “Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism.” The database allegedly included “hashes, or unique digital footprints” of “violent terrorist content that had been flagged and removed…” from social media platforms.
The complaint says that many social media companies use the database “to identify and quickly remove potential terrorist content on their respective platforms.”
The theory of the lawsuit is that following the acquisition of OnlyFans by Radvinsky, the plaintiffs’ information was surreptitiously added to the GIFCT database resulting in them being blacklisted as terrorists or otherwise dangerous individuals even though they had no terrorist involvement.
This was allegedly done to harm the businesses of the adult sites that competed with OnlyFans, “in order to improve the market position, revenue, power, and otherwise benefit OnlyFans and its owner, Radvinsky.”
The complaint alleges that the scheme “required and involved” unidentified “employees or agents” of Meta, Instagram and Facebook to manipulate the database information, but the complaint only identifies the people involved as “John Does” at this time.
The plaintiffs assert that the potential class of plaintiffs includes more than a hundred people and that their claims exceed $5 million. In addition to Meta and its subsidiaries, the suit names Radvinsky, Fenix and the Fenix subsidiary that owns the OnlyFans platform.
The complaint was filed by the law firm Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman PLLC, a plaintiffs’ class action firm. The firm’s website claims that the firm “pioneered federal class action litigation…” and, in the last 50 years, has recovered more than $50 billion for its clients.
No response to the complaint has yet been filed.