Members of the right-wing conspiracy group QAnon should not be allowed to proceed with claims that Google violated their First Amendment rights by taking down YouTube videos, the company says in new court papers.
“A First Amendment violation requires state action, but there is none here,” Google said Wednesday, in a motion asking U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman to dismiss the QAnon members' lawsuit.
Google adds that judicial decisions in an “unbroken string of cases” support the idea that private companies -- unlike the government -- aren't bound by the First Amendment's prohibition on censorship.
Google's papers come in a lawsuit brought by a group of QAnon members, who say their YouTube channels were taken down by the company in the middle of October.
The content creators say their YouTube channels had more than 4.5 million subscribers, and had garnered more than 771 million views, before their removal.
They claim both that the takedowns violated their free speech rights, and that Google broke its own terms of service.
The QAnon members claimed in their complaint that Google should be considered a “state actor” based on the theory that it removed the videos due to pressure by Congress.
The plaintiffs specifically noted that some Democratic lawmakers publicly complained last year about false information on Google's services, and that the House of Representatives approved a resolution condemning QAnon and rejecting the group's conspiracy theories.
Google is urging the judge to reject that argument.
“This argument fails as a matter of law: neither the public statements of individual members of Congress nor the House’s symbolic Resolution (which said nothing about plaintiffs or their content) can transform YouTube’s private content-moderation decisions into state action that violates the First Amendment,” the company writes.
Numerous courts have ruled that tech companies don't violate the First Amendment by removing or degrading users' posts based on their content. In one high-profile case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate a lawsuit by Prager University, which claimed Google censored conservative clips on YouTube.
The appellate judges said the First Amendment only prohibits censorship by government entities, and not private companies like YouTube.
Google is also urging Freeman to reject the claim that the takedowns violated the terms of service, arguing that those terms allow the company to remove videos at its discretion.
When the QAnon members first sued, they sought an emergency injunction that would have required Google to immediately reinstate their videos.
Last year, Freeman rejected that request, writing that the content creators hadn't met the standard for an emergency restraining order. She didn't address the QAnon members' First Amendment arguments in that earlier ruling, which also allowed the content creators to continue to pursue their claims.