Vaccine critic Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, has failed to persuade a judge to order YouTube to refrain from suppressing videos in which he expressed controversial views about vaccinations.
In a ruling issued Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Trina Thompson in the Northern District of California said Kennedy was unlikely to prevail on his claim that Google violated the First Amendment, given that Google is a private company.
While government officials are bound by the First Amendment's prohibition on censorship, private companies generally are free to reject material that doesn't meet their editorial standards. There's an exception for companies that are “state actors” -- meaning equivalent to the government -- but Thompson said Google didn't engage in the kinds of concerted action with the government that would transform the tech company into a state actor.
The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by Kennedy earlier this month, when he alleged that YouTube removed videos due to a “partnership” with the White House “to censor dissenting views.”
One of those videos was of an event held in March at Saint Anselm College's New Hampshire Institute of Politics Kennedy, where Kennedy delivered a speech in which he questioned the pharmaceutical industry.
His complaint also alleged that YouTube removed clips of interviews he did with podcast hosts Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan, due to remarks that violated the platform's policy regarding medical misinformation.
He claimed the “censorship campaign” prevented his message “from reaching millions of voters,” and also “makes it harder for groups that are supporting his campaign to amplify his message through public sources.”
The complaint referenced a July 2021 press conference at which former Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued recommendations aimed at curbing false information about COVID-19. Murthy said at the event that the government was asking tech companies to monitor and take action “against misinformation super-spreaders,” while Psaki said the government was “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.”
Kennedy specifically requested that Thompson issue a temporary restraining order that would ban Google from “using its misinformation policies to remove Kennedy’s speech on matters of public concern from YouTube during the 2024 campaign.”
Thompson denied the request for several reasons, including that she hadn't been presented with evidence that government officials discussed Kennedy with Google, or demanded that the tech company adopt any particular policies regarding COVID-19.
Instead, she wrote, there was evidence that communications between government officials and Google were in the nature of “consultation and information sharing.”
Thompson also pointed to a separate reason to reject Kennedy's request -- public health.
“The coronavirus still poses a health risk to certain individuals, and it would not serve the public interest to let medical misinformation proliferate on YouTube,” she wrote.