Right-wing activists Laura Loomer and Freedom Watch want a federal appellate court to revive a lawsuit accusing Google, Twitter, Facebook and Apple of conspiring to suppress conservative views.
The lawsuit was dismissed last month by U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden. He said the concerns raised by Loomer and Freedom Watch were “non-trivial,” but that those concerns didn't translate into grounds for a lawsuit.
This week, Loomer and Freedom Watch began the process of appealing McFadden's ruling to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the district court complaint, Loomer and Freedom Watch alleged the tech companies violated antitrust laws by conspiring “to re-craft the nation into their leftist design.”
Specifically, the complaint alleged that the tech companies -- along with traditional news media outlets -- “intentionally and willfully suppressed politically conservative content in order to take down President Donald Trump and his administration with the intent and purpose to have installed leftist government in the nation’s capital and the 50 states.” (The complaint was only against the tech companies, not traditional media.)
Among other allegations, Freedom Watch said it experienced a large drop in YouTube viewers after the platforms started “suppressing and censoring” Freedom Watch's content.
“Whereas Freedom Watch’s YouTube videos often reach over 100,000, with a substantially positive 'like' to 'dislike' ratio, it is losing subscribers each and every day ... which has directly and proximately led to led to a substantial drop in revenue. This is the result of the illegal and anti-competition actions,” the company wrote.
Loomer was banned by Twitter last November after she allegedly violated the platform's rules against hate speech in a tweet criticizing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Soon after Twitter took action, Facebook also suspended Loomer for 30 days.
She alleged in the federal suit that these moves caused her financial injury, and prevented her from “reaching her audience with her investigative work.”
McFadden said in a ruling issued last month that the complaint by Loomer and Freedom Watch didn't support a lawsuit. He said that even though the lawsuit alleged that the companies engaged in a conspiracy, the complaint only contained conclusions -- as opposed to the kinds of factual allegations that would prove a case. “It includes no allegations, for example, that any of the platforms met or otherwise communicated an intent to collectively suppress conservative content,” he wrote.
Loomer and Freedom Watch also alleged that the platforms violated the First Amendment by suppressing speech for political reasons. But McFadden -- like many other judges -- said that the First Amendment prohibits censorship by the government, not private companies.
“While selective censorship of the kind alleged by the plaintiffs may be antithetical to the American tradition of freedom of speech, it is not actionable under the First Amendment unless perpetrated by a state actor,” he wrote. “Thus, their claim must be dismissed.”
Freedom Watch and Loomer aren't the only ones to accuse tech companies of censoring conservative views. Others, including Prager University, have filed similar lawsuits.
Despite those complaints, some observers say there is no evidence that tech companies are especially likely to suppress conservative views. New York Law School professor Ari Waldman, who testified on Capitol Hill last year, told lawmakers that a lot of content is filtered, but "no more so from the right than from the left."
So far, judges have ruled that 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.