‘Free Speech’ Suit Aims to End Twitter’s Political Censorship
A group of free-speech lawyers filed the most serious legal challenge yet to Twitter’s censorship policies Tuesday in San Francisco County Superior Court, seeking a ruling preventing Twitter from banning users purely on the basis of their views and political associations.
Article stolen from Breitbart.com
The 29-page complaint contends that, under a California legal doctrine that recognizes some private facilities as “public forums,” Twitter may not discriminate against speech on their platform based purely on viewpoint. If successful, it would be the first extension of that doctrine to internet social media platforms and could transform the way free speech is treated online. The suit became all the more relevant Wednesday as Twitter stood accused of locking out thousands of conservatives under the guise of cracking down on “Russian bots.”
The genesis of the suit is Twitter’s November 2017 announcement that they would start banning and sanctioning users based on their offline behavior and associations. On December 18, 2017, Twitter, five years after their top British executive described the company as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” made good on this threat, “purging” hundreds of mostly right-wing users. Twitter’s new policy refers to association with “violent extremist groups,” and a company blog post claimed, “If an account’s profile information includes a violent threat or multiple slurs, epithets, racist or sexist tropes, incites fear, or reduces someone to less than human, it will be permanently suspended.”
One of those purged is Jared Taylor, founder and editor of “American Renaissance,” a fringe-right journal on race and immigration. He is frequently described as an “extremist” and a “white supremacist” by left-wing groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the latter of which sits on Twitter’s “Trust and Safety Council,” the largely leftist group of activists and non-profits Twitter assembled in 2016 to help decide which speech to censor.
Taylor is a graduate of Yale University and Paris’s Sciences Po, the former West Coast editor of PC Magazine, and author of several books. He describes himself as a “white advocate” or “race realist” and condemns Nazism and antisemitism.
According to the complaint, in his more than six years on Twitter, Taylor never made threats, harassed anyone, or otherwise came under scrutiny for his behavior on the platform. Even the SPLC notes Taylor “scrupulously avoided racist epithets [and] employed the language of academic journals” in his writings, and Taylor once wrote an article urging people to be more civil on Twitter.
As the complaint puts it:
Mr. Taylor has always expressed his views with respect and civility towards those who disagree. He has never engaged in vituperation or name-calling, on Twitter or elsewhere.
Neither Mr. Taylor nor American Renaissance has ever promoted or advocated violence, on Twitter or anywhere else. Indeed, they have urged their followers to maintain a dignified and respectful tone towards those who disagree with them. Neither Mr. Taylor nor American Renaissance is affiliated with any groups that promote or practice violence.
At no time did either Mr. Taylor’s or American Renaissance’s accounts engage in “trolling,” insults, or harassment, nor did they ever encourage anyone else to do such thing
Yet both Taylor’s personal account and that of American Renaissance were permanently banned. The only explanation Twitter gave was that the accounts were “affiliated with a violent extremist group.” Twitter refused to offer Taylor any further details including to which “violent extremist group” he was affiliated.
Representing Taylor in his effort to be reinstated to Twitter are Michigan State University Law professor Dr. Adam Candeub and Washington, DC, attorney Noah Peters, with Nevada free speech lawyer Marc Rondazza acting as local counsel. Peters spoke with Breitbart News about his complaint.
“If you’re the functional equivalent of a traditional public forum … even the private company that owns it can’t prohibit common expressive activities completely … they can’t selectively kick people out and allow certain people to speak and not others,” Peters explained of California’s unique privately owned public forum doctrine.
This “Pruneyard Doctrine” grows out of a 1979 California Supreme Court interpretation of the California Constitution’s version of the First Amendment, Robin v. Pruneyard Shopping Center, that held private owners could not prevent speech on their property when it functions like a traditional public venue for speech. “The classic examples are sidewalks, parks, and, in the case of Pruneyard, a shopping mall, a railroad terminal, probably an airport terminal, but that hasn’t been squarely decided,” Peters explained.
The crux of their lawsuit is that, in the 21st Century, social media platforms are the most natural “public forums” in which people exchange ideas, and that the Pruneyard Doctrine ought to be extended to prevent viewpoint discrimination and arbitrary restrictions on speech on these privately owned websites. Peters explained to Breitbart News the 1970s California Supreme Court’s reasoning in creating the doctrine. It focused on the importance of public drives for signatures to the referendum process in California, worrying that if the privately owned public places where people congregate were closed off to flyering and signature collectors, it could do serious harm to the functioning of the political system.