Siding with Facebook, a federal appellate court has refused to revive a lawsuit by Cameron Atkinson, who claimed his First Amendment rights were violated when Facebook “censored” some of his posts.
“Unless certain exceptions apply, the First Amendment only restricts government action,” 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Sidney Runyan Thomas and Margaret McKeown and Montana District Court Judge Donald Molloy wrote in an opinion issued Monday.
The judges added that Atkinson's complaint didn't include the kinds of allegations that, if true, would support the conclusion that Facebook was a “government actor” when it suppressed his posts.
“The district court properly dismissed Atkinson’s First Amendment claim because he did not allege sufficient facts to infer that Meta Platforms is a government actor,” the judges wrote, referring to Facebook by its new name.
The dispute began two years ago, when Atkinson, then a law student at Quinnipiac University, sued the social media company for taking down posts that contained the name of the suspected Ukraine whistleblower whose allegations resulted in the first impeachment of former president Donald Trump.
Atkinson alleged that he was “censored” by Facebook because the company was trying to “pander to and placate its critics.”
“Facebook has elected to apply its vague 'community standards' policies in a politically motivated, ideologically driven way, silencing both right-wing and left-wing speech that threatens to disrupt the carefully crafted narrative around the attempt to impeach President Donald Trump,” he alleged in a complaint filed in November of 2019.
Last December, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg dismissed the case, ruling that the First Amendment only prohibits the government -- as opposed to private companies -- from suppressing speech.
Atkinson then appealed to the 9th Circuit. That court upheld Seeborg's decision. The appellate judges said in their ruling that Atkinson's complaint lacked plausible allegations that Facebook was coerced by the government into suppressing posts, or that the company acted jointly with the government.