Members of the right-wing conspiracy theory group QAnon are suing Google over its decision earlier this month to remove their videos.
“YouTube’s massive de-platforming, which occurred just three weeks before the 2020 Presidential election, worked to the severe detriment of both conservative content creators and American voters who seek out their content,” 15 QAnon members allege in a complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
They are seeking a court order requiring Google to restore the videos.
The QAnon members, who brought suit anonymously, say their YouTube channels had more than 4.5 million subscribers in total, and had garnered more than 771 million views, before their October 15 removal.
“Although it is clear that millions of Americans get their news, information and commentary on issues of national importance from the plaintiffs’ conservative channels, YouTube excised them and their political viewpoints off the YouTube platform without notice,” they lawsuit alleges.
Earlier this month, Google's YouTube said it would “prohibit content that targets an individual or group with conspiracy theories that have been used to justify real-world violence.”
The QAnon members argue that Google took that step under pressure from elected officials, and cite a recently passed House resolution condemning QAnon.
“The fact that Congress, or at least the House of Representatives, has condemned political speech with which it does not agree ... and that YouTube almost immediately purged plaintiffs’ content raises the strongest inference that YouTube acted at the direct behest and encouragement of the United States House of Representatives,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit claims that Google violated QAnon's First Amendment rights by taking down the clips, and that Google didn't comply with its terms of service in at least three ways -- removing material “without cause,” failing to give advance notice, and failing to give people the opportunity to appeal.
A Google spokesperson said the company can't comment on pending litigation, but added that policies “are updated regularly to meet new challenges, like harmful conspiracies that have been used to justify real-world violence.”
Google and other social media platforms have faced numerous prior lawsuits by people or organizations who allege their material was wrongly removed (or demonetized) for political reasons.
To date, the social media companies have prevailed in those cases for several reasons. Judges have ruled that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects web companies from lawsuits over content moderation decisions. Judges have also ruled that the First Amendment's prohibitions against censorship apply only to the government and not private companies like Google.
Some plaintiffs in those prior cases attempted to argue that the web companies were acting in concert with the government, and therefore should be bound by the First Amendment.
For instance, the Russian company Federal Agency of News claimed in a recent lawsuit that its free speech rights were violated because its account was removed as a result of a “conspiracy” between the social networking platform and the U.S. government.
U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose rejected that argument and dismissed the Russian company's case.