Siding with Google, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by members of the right-wing conspiracy group QAnon who claimed the company violated the First Amendment by removing their videos from YouTube.
In a decision issued Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman in San Jose, California ruled that the QAnon members' allegations, even if true, wouldn't show that Google violated the First Amendment -- which prohibits censorship by the government, but not private companies.
The ruling comes in a lawsuit brought by more than a dozen QAnon members, who said their YouTube channels were taken down by the company last year. The QAnon members, who sued anonymously, say their YouTube channels had more than 4.5 million subscribers, and had garnered more than 771 million views, before their removal in October of 2020.
YouTube removed the clips as part of a broader crackdown on what it called “harmful conspiracy theories.”
The content creators alleged 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.
The QAnon members argued to Freeman that the takedowns should be considered “state action” -- meaning equivalent to action by the government -- on the theory that lawmakers pressured YouTube into removing the material.
Freeman rejected that argument.
“Plaintiffs claim that defendants’ conduct is state action because it was in response to the threat of various government penalties ... allegedly linked to whether defendants appropriately moderated certain types of content,” Freeman wrote. “The threats of penalties plaintiffs point to are insufficient to convert private conduct into state action here.”
Freman noted that the supposed “government penalties” included repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects web companies from lawsuits over users' speech, as well as “show trials” in front of the Senate.
While dismissed the QAnon members' First Amendment claims with prejudice, her ruling allows the content creators to re-file claims that Google violated its terms of service in state court.
Google and other social media platforms have faced numerous prior lawsuits by people or organizations who alleged their material was wrongly removed (or demonetized) for political reasons. To date, the social media companies have prevailed in those cases.