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Social Media & The Law

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Most lawsuits between citizens and social media end in rulings in favor of the app. This is because social media sites can legally ban an account for various reasons- ranging from offensive jokes to perceived threats to violating minor rules.

Charles C. Johnson V. Twitter: Charles C. Johnson, a conservative Twitter user, was banned from the site; in response, Johnson brought a lawsuit in 2015. Johnson cited that banning him was a violation of his first amendment right to free speech. In 2018 the state of California granted Twitter’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit stating that “It is well established that the constitutional right to free speech includes the right not to speak.” They continued to explain that if any rights were being violated, it was Twitter’s because Twitter “clearly state that users may not post threatening tweets, and also that [Twitter] may unilaterally, for any reason, terminate a user’s account. The rules reflect [Twitter’s] exercise of free speech.”

Federal Agency of News V. Facebook: In 2016, the Federal Agency of News Facebook page was banned for posting propaganda and having alleged connections to Russian Internet Research Agency known for trolling. The page brought a lawsuit claiming it was a violation of their first amendment right and a breach of contract. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2019 and 2020 due to Section 230, which provides immunity from civil liabilities for information service providers that remove or restrict content from their services they deem “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”

Prager University V. Google: a conservative advocacy group at Prager University brought a lawsuit against YouTube in 2017 after some of their videos were made unavailable on the site. In a series of claims, the most notable was that the restriction violated the First Amendment Lanham Act- allowing false advertising. A California judge ruled against them, saying “[Google and YouTube] were private entities who created their own video-sharing social media website and make decisions about whether and how to regulate content that has been uploaded on that website,” Because they are not federal agencies or government entities, they could not violate the first amendment. The Judge’s ruling was upheld when the appeals court added, “YouTube is a private entity. The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government — not a private party — from abridging speech.”

Tulsi Gabbard v. Google: Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic nominee, brought a lawsuit against Google, claiming the company was trying to prevent her bid for a democratic nomination after they temporarily suspended her account in 2019. The court ruled against her using the precedent set in the case against PragerU; Judge Wilson continued to say, “Google is not now, nor (to the Court’s knowledge) has it ever been, an arm of the United States government.”

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