The same day Donald Trump took to Twitter to threaten to regulate or shut down social media sites, the U.S. appeals court in Washington D.C. dismissed a lawsuit accusing top tech companies of silencing conservative voices. Filed in 2018 by nonprofit Freedom Watch and rightwing gadfly Laura Loomer, the suit accused Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Google of stifling first amendment rights.
The suit alleged that four of tech’s biggest names “have engaged in a conspiracy to intentionally and willfully suppress politically conservative content.” It specifically cited Loomer’s ban from Twitter and Facebook, following a tweet about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Also noted is her inability to grow an audience base and revenue on Google’s YouTube, suggesting that after Trump’s election “growth on these platforms has come to a complete halt, and its audience base and revenue generated has either plateaued or diminished.” Apple’s alleged role is less clear.
In the ruling, District Judge Trevor McFadden notes that Freedom Watch and Loomer failed to back up a claim that the companies were “state actors,” involved with the regulation of free speech.
“The Plaintiffs do not show how the Platforms’ alleged conduct may fairly be treated as actions taken by the government itself,” the judge writes. “Facebook and Twitter, for example, are private businesses that do not become ‘state actors’ based solely on the provision of their social media networks to the public.”
In other words, the companies cannot violate the first amendment, because banning users doesn’t constitute government abridgment of free speech. Per the decision, “Freedom Watch fails to point to additional facts indicating that these Platforms are engaged in state action and thus fails to state a viable First Amendment claim.”