A right-wing Texas attorney who says he markets his practice on social media is suing Meta Platforms and TikTok for allegedly suppressing his posts based on viewpoint, in violation of the state's “censorship” law.
In a petition filed shortly before Thanksgiving, conservative lawyer Paul Davis says Meta Platforms banned his Facebook and Instagram accounts, due to posts expressing his viewpoints about the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol.
He also alleges that Meta and TikTok subsequently suppressed posts he created under new usernames (including @fireduptxlawywer on Instagram and TikTok, and www.facebook.com/fireduptxlawyer1 on Facebook). Meta allegedly “shadow banned” and placed restrictions on the new account, while TikTok allegedly both “shadow banned” and permanently banned him.
Davis, who is representing himself in the lawsuit, writes that the alleged content suppression “has a tremendous effect on his emotional well-being.”
He writes: “It gives Davis the sense that he is living in an Orwellian society where platforms such as Meta and TikTok act as the 'thought police' to tell Davis what he can and cannot say in the public square.”
Davis claims the companies are violating Texas's recent social media law, which prohibits large platforms from suppressing posts based on viewpoint expressed.
That law is currently blocked, and it's not yet clear whether courts will ever allow enforcement.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, who enjoined enforcement at the request of tech industry groups NetChoice and Computer & Communications Industry Association, said the law violates web companies' First Amendment rights to exercise editorial discretion over the material they publish.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Pitman and said the law was constitutional, but preserved a block on the measure pending review by the Supreme Court.
Davis says in his complaint that he created his social media accounts primarily to promote his law practice.
He adds that as an “employment law specialist,” he has “a lot of knowledge and useful information to share regarding employee rights under Title VII in the context of COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the workplace.
He writes that he made new videos “almost every day on the topic of vaccine mandates and other legal topics of important to political conservatives,” and that, by early 2022, more than 90% of his law clients came to him through Instagram and TikTok.
Among other allegations regarding Meta Platforms, Davis says that this June, the views on his Instagram stories dropped from more than 900 to under 200, and that he was drawing fewer new followers than in the past.
“Since Davis’s content had remained constant, there was no explanation for this sudden drop in views and new follows other than that Meta had put restrictions on Davis’s account by reducing its exposure in their viewership algorithms,” he posits in the complaint.
He also alleges that earlier this year, TikTok began flagging his account for supposedly violating community guidelines -- a move that he says resulted in a drop in viewership. Ultimately, TikTok allegedly banned his account, as well as the “backup accounts” @fireduptxlawyer2.0 and @fireduptxlawyer3.0, he alleges.
He is seeking a court order requiring TikTok to restore his accounts, and Meta Platforms to reinstate his original account and also “lift all restrictions” on his subsequent @fireduptxlawyer account.
The matter is pending in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.