Prager University has no valid grounds to sue Google's YouTube for allegedly discriminating against conservative video clips, the company argues in new court papers.
“YouTube is not the government, and its efforts to regulate content posted to its private online service are not limited by the First Amendment,” Google writes in papers filed Wednesday with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The company argues that the First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring speech, but doesn't prevent Google from deciding how to treat content posted to its platform. What's more, Google writes, any attempt to subject non-governmental platforms like Google to the First Amendment would result in “disastrous practical consequences.”
“If they are bound by the same First Amendment rules that apply to the government, YouTube and other service providers would lose much of their ability to protect their users against offensive or objectionable content -- including pornography, hate speech, personal attacks, and terrorist propaganda,” Google writes.
The company's papers come in response to attempts by Prager University to revive its lawsuit against Google. Prager initially sued last year, alleging 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?"
U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California 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 then appealed to the 9th Circuit. The company argues that YouTube is a "public forum" -- comparable to a park -- and shouldn't be allowed to censor lawful speech based on its content.
For its part, Google says it “has nothing against PragerU,” and that it attempts to apply its polices without regard to politics.
But the company adds that it's entitled to make decisions about clips for whatever reasons it chooses.
“When it makes decisions about which videos should be available in the special “Restricted Mode” feature it offers to protect its most sensitive users, YouTube is not standing in the shoes of the government,” Google writes. “To the contrary, YouTube is exercising its own rights under the First Amendment.”
The battle comes at a time when conservative politicians are criticizing web companies for allegedly blocking right-wing speech. Last month, the Justice Department floated the possibility of investigating whether tech companies are “stifling” right-wing views. President Trump also recently made the remarkable claim that Google's search engine is "rigged" because it highlights stories from "Fake CNN."
But other 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."