Twitter's Trump Ban Doesn't Violate Free Speech, Digital Rights Group Says

Shortly after Twitter banned former President Donald Trump, California resident Maria Rutenberg filed a doomed lawsuit against the company, arguing that it violated her free speech rights by depriving her of the ability to retweet and comment on Trump's old posts.

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland promptly threw out Rutenberg's lawsuit, ruling that Twitter can't deprive people of their First Amendment rights, for the obvious reason that Twitter isn't the government. The First Amendment prohibits government officials -- not private companies -- from suppressing speech.

Rutenberg, a real estate broker and lawyer, is now appealing that ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where she essentially argues that Twitter should be considered an arm of the government.

She notes that federal judges in New York ruled last year that Trump deprived critics of their First Amendment rights when he blocked people on Twitter, and argues that those rulings somehow converted Twitter into a government-run forum.

Twitter countered in papers filed last week that last year's ruling dealt with Trump's conduct, not the company's.

That ruling was about “what actions the President may take,” and “has nothing to do with whether a private social media company like Twitter can be deemed a state actor liable for constitutional torts,” Twitter writes.

On Monday, the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation weighed in on Twitter's side.

“Although internet users are understandably angry, frustrated, and perplexed by the way social media companies curate their users’ speech on their platforms, internet users are ultimately best served when the First Amendment protects the platforms’ rights to make those decisions,” the group writes in a friend-of-the-court brief.

“Twitter’s actions here with respect to President Trump should be scrutinized in the court of public opinion, as they have been and continue to be,” the group says. “But Twitter’s actions were constitutionally protected, and this court should affirm the dismissal.”

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