Vaccine skeptic Colleen Huber, who was suspended from Twitter last year, can't proceed with claims that Twitter, President Joe Biden and other White House officials violated her free speech rights, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The decision, issued by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, upholds a ruling issued in March by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in the Northern District of California.
“The district court properly dismissed Huber’s constitutional claims,” the appellate judges wrote.
Huber sued Twitter, Biden and others last year, after Twitter suspended her for posting a quote from a news article critical of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. She alleged the suspension was the result of a “conspiracy” between the White House and Twitter to violate her First Amendment right to express her opinion about vaccines.
When Chen dismissed the complaint, he noted that private companies like Twitter aren't bound by the First Amendment's prohibition on censorship.
Huber had attempted to get around that princple by arguing that Twitter was a “state actor” -- meaning equivalent to the government -- when it suspended her. She claimed the account suspension was due to a supposed partnership between Twitter and the government, and cited news reports about the White House's effort to work with social media companies to combat false information about the pandemic.
Chen rejected that theory, writing: “The conclusion that Twitter did not suspend plaintiff’s account because of an alleged conspiracy with the White House, is corroborated by the fact that plaintiff violated Twitter’s Terms and Service and Twitter has provided a good and sufficient basis to suspend her account.”
She then appealed to the 9th Circuit, which also rejected her arguments.
Those judges said the allegations in her complaint, even if proven true, wouldn't show that Twitter conspired with the government to violate her rights.
“The complaint does not contain any nonconclusory allegations plausibly showing an agreement between Twitter and the government to violate her constitutional rights,” the appeals judges wrote. “Contrary to Huber’s argument, the two media reports on which she draws do not plausibly show that Twitter agreed to suspend her account on the government’s behalf.”
They added that her complaint “contains no allegations that Huber did not violate Twitter’s Terms of Service or that Twitter would not have suspended Huber’s account absent the alleged conspiracy.”
Huber isn't the only one seeking to revive claims against a social media company over policies regarding health information.
Robert F. Kennedy's group Children's Health Defense, also skeptical of vaccines, is similarly attempting to convince the 9th Circuit to reinstate a lawsuit against Facebook for allegedly suppressing vaccine-related posts.