News Story

Fenton Woman Says Facebook Hindered Her Search For Missing Brother

After posting COVID-related article, she joined lawsuit against tech company

A Michigan public school teacher says Facebook blocked her when she was using the social media platform during a search for her missing brother, who was battling depression and then found dead.

Jenn Horton, a teacher at Fenton Area Public Schools, says it all started when she posted a disputed study on Facebook about the dangers of wearing a face mask in public. She said it led to Facebook blocking her account for a 24-hour period when she was using the social media platform to try to locate her missing brother in Tennessee.

“For years, I’ve heavily relied on Facebook as one of my main vehicles of communication with friends and family alike. I used it to capture memories, share photos, make major life announcements, and I also depended on it for reaching larger networks – all tools that Facebook prides themselves in,” Horton said. “But, during the 24 hours that I needed this platform the most, Facebook suspended me.”

Horton continued: “I had been relying on my Facebook account to spread the word on his disappearance. Everyday I was sharing posts on missing persons pages and to local community pages where he had gone missing. I was devastated when I went to sign-in to my account to assist with search efforts – I felt my voice taken from me at a time that I needed it the most. All I wanted to do was post information on his disappearance to my friends and family and cast a large net in hopes that my community could band together with me like I had seen so many times before.”

The disputed study Horton cited was uploaded to a federal government website called PubMed Central, which is published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health.

That federal website retracted the study in July, months after Horton posted a link to it. PubMed Central states that housing an article or document, “does not imply an endorsement of, or concurrence with the contents by the NLM [National Library of Medicine], the National Institutes of Health [NIH] or the U.S. Federal Government.”

The study was written by Baruch Vainshelboim, who is, according to the NIH, associated with the cardiology division of the Palo Alto Healthcare System in Palo Alto, California.

The study was posted on Facebook by numerous other people. Media fact-checkers have questioned the legitimacy of Vainshelboim’s work. The liberal website Snopes reported, “The paper was published by an exercise physiologist with no academic connection to Stanford University or the NIH in a journal that accepts ‘radical, speculative and non-mainstream scientific ideas.’”

Horton posted a link to the study on April 12, and Facebook acted against her on April 29. Her brother was missing on April 17 and she was using Facebook to contact authorities and missing-person organizations. Her brother was found dead June 3, according to Horton.

Horton said she believe the article was legitimate because it had been uploaded to a federal government website.

“I was posting an article from the National Institute of Health concerning masks and possible negative effects of children wearing masks all day at school,” Horton said in an email. “At the time I posted the article, it had not yet been retracted and it wasn’t until several weeks after sharing it that they tagged it as false information and blocked me from using my account.”

Horton said she is represented in a federal lawsuit that was filed against the company by the American First Policy Institute, a public policy nonprofit founded by administration officials of former President Donald Trump. The lawsuit claims that the company censored Trump. The nonprofit’s website provides no contact information and its officials were unavailable for comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.