A federal appellate court has refused to revive claims by right-wing activists that Google, Twitter, Facebook and Apple violated the First Amendment and antitrust laws by conspiring to suppress conservative views.
In a ruling issued Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said activists Laura Loomer and Freedom Watch didn't show how private companies could have violated the First Amendment -- which generally prohibits censorship by the government.
“Freedom Watch’s First Amendment claim fails because it does not adequately allege that the platforms can violate the First Amendment,” the judges wrote.
The decision comes one day after President Donald Trump accused Twitter of “stifling free speech” by fact-checking him.
The ruling stems from an April 2019 complaint by Loomer and Freedom Watch alleging that the tech companies conspired “to re-craft the nation into their leftist design.”
Loomer and Freedom Watch claimed 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.)
Freedom Watch alleged that it experienced a large drop in YouTube viewers after the platforms started “suppressing and censoring” Freedom Watch's content.
Loomer was banned by Twitter in 2018 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.
U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden in the District of Columbia threw out the lawsuit last year. He said in his ruling that the concerns raised by Loomer and Freedom Watch were “non-trivial,” but didn't support a lawsuit.
“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 appealed to the D.C. Circuit, where they argued the web companies should be considered “state actors,” and required to refrain from censorship.
The appellate court rejected that argument, writing that merely providing a forum for speech doesn't transform private companies into state actors.
Freedom Watch and Loomer aren't the only ones to claim they were censored by tech companies. Others, including Prager University, have made similar allegations.
So far, judges have ruled that web companies have the right to decide how to treat content on their platforms. For example, in February, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate a lawsuit by Prager University against Google for allegedly censoring conservative clips on YouTube.