Appeals Court Halts White Nationalist's Suit Against Twitter

Siding with Twitter, an appellate court has halted white nationalist Jared Taylor's lawsuit alleging he was wrongly banned from the service.

In a decision issued Friday, California's First Appellate District said the Communications Decency Act protects Twitter from liability for decisions about what content to allow on the service.

The appellate court stayed Taylor's lawsuit and sent the matter back to Judge Harold Kahn in San Francisco with instructions to either dismiss Taylor's complaint, or to defend a decision allowing the case to proceed. But the appellate judges made clear that they believe the case should be dismissed outright, writing that Kahn appears to have "erred" in refusing to throw out the case.

The ruling marks the latest turn in a lawsuit filed by Taylor, who alleges he was wrongly discriminated against by Twitter, based on his political views.

Last December, soon after Twitter announced a crackdown on "violent extremist groups," the company permanently suspended Taylor and his publication, American Renaissance. Two months later, Taylor sued Twitter over the bans. He claimed that the account suspensions violated several California laws, including one dealing with unfair business practices.

Twitter asked Kahn to dismiss the case at an early stage under California's anti-SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) law, which aims to protect free speech about matters of public importance. Twitter argued that its First Amendment right to decide what content to allow on its platform was threatened by the lawsuit — and that the company has the right to suspend accounts at any time.

During a hearing in June, hearing, Kahn questioned Twitter's lawyer about whether that position was consistent with prior statements by executives who had previously called the company the "free speech wing of the free speech party."

Twitter's position that it can suspend accounts at will may be "unconscionable," or too unfair to be enforceable, added Kahn.

Kahn said during the hearing that he planned to reject Twitter's bid to dismiss the matter. He later issued a formal order allowing the matter to proceed.

Two weeks ago, Twitter asked an appellate court to review Kahn's decision and to stay all proceedings pending appeal. On Friday, the appellate court took the unusual step of granting Twitter's request without first hearing from Taylor.

Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, who first reported on the appellate court's ruling, calls the decision a "powerful win" for Twitter.

He adds the lawsuit, like others brought by people who say they were wrongly shut out of social media platforms -- has "high stakes" for social media platforms and their users.

"The plaintiffs seek to eliminate Twitter’s discretion to shut down purveyors of anti-social content, and other trolls, on its site," he writes. "If Twitter and other social-media providers are defenseless against the trolls, their services will become unusable overnight. So this lawsuit and related suits are existential battles for the social-media defendants and all of us who currently enjoy those services."

Earlier this year, a different judge -- Kimberly Gaab in Fresno County -- threw out a lawsuit against Twitter by right-wing activist Charles Johnson, who was banned from the service in 2015. Gaab said in a "tentative ruling" that Twitter has the right to decide what speech to allow on its platform.

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