Prager University is asking a federal appeals court to revive a lawsuit alleging that Google's YouTube wrongly discriminated against conservative video clips.
"Google/YouTube cannot have it both ways: induce the public to post and view video content on YouTube with promises and express representations to users that the site is a viewpoint-neutral, public space for 'freedom of expression' and then turn around and restrict viewer access to and demonetize video content in their sole discretion for any reason, or no reason at all," Prager argues in papers filed Thursday with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The lawsuit dates to last year, when Prager alleged that Google wrongly applied its "restricted mode" filter to the school's videos, effectively making them unavailable to some students and library patrons. Prager also alleged that Google "demonetized" some conservative videos, like a clip that posed the question "Pakistan: Can Sharia and Freedom Coexist?" Prager says that as of this week, approximately 80 of its videos have been restricted by Google.
Prager argues that Google's moves violated the school's First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh dismissed the complaint earlier this year. She said that because Google is a private business, as opposed to a government entity, it can decide how to treat content on its platform.
Prager is now asking the 9th Circuit to reinstate the lawsuit. The company contends that YouTube is a "public forum" -- comparable to a park -- and that YouTube, like the government, shouldn't be allowed to censor lawful speech based on its content.
Prager's appeal comes as President Trump and other conservative politicians are increasingly criticizing web companies for allegedly blocking right-wing speech.
Despite those complaints, some observers say there's no evidence that tech companies are especially likely to suppress conservative views.
New York Law School professor Ari Waldman, who testified on Capitol Hill earlier this year, told lawmakers that a lot of content is filtered, but "no more so from the right than from the left."
"When victims of racist, homophobic, and sexist tweets and comments post those comments to call out the aggressors, it is often the victims that are suspended or banned," he said in his prepared testimony. "Activists associates with the Black Lives Matter movement have reported just as many if not more take downs of images discussing racism and police brutality than any of the anecdotal evidence of suspensions or take downs on the right."
Judges have ruled in other cases that Google, Facebook and other web companies have the right to decide how to treat content on their platforms. Last year, for instance, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to revive a lawsuit against Facebook by the group Sikhs for Justice. That organization alleged that its content was blocked by Facebook in India.