As Republican leaders continue to publicly vilify social media companies and back unconstitutional regulations ostensibly aimed at fighting online “censorship,” Twitter has gone on the offensive. The company on Monday filed a lawsuit accusing indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) of unlawfully abusing the power of his office by opening an investigation into how Twitter moderates its own platform in retaliation for former President Donald Trump being permanently suspended from the site.
The complaint stems from Paxton in January issuing a civil investigative demands (CID) to Twitter, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, seeking the companies’ content moderation policies and practices. In a press release accompanying the CIDs, Paxton said that for years the companies “have silenced voices in the social media sphere and shut down competing companies and platforms,” couching his concern as a First Amendment issue that “chills free speech.”
“It has only grown worse in recent months,” he said, adding, “And just last week, this discriminatory action included the unprecedented step of removing and blocking President Donald Trump from online media platforms.”
As previously noted by Law&Crime, Twitter is a private company and therefore has a First Amendment right to moderate its platform as it sees fit. The First Amendment also protects the company from having a government actor dictate how it operates its online platform, a point the company makes in the opening lines of the lawsuit.
“Twitter seeks to stop AG Paxton from unlawfully abusing his authority as the highest law-enforcement officer of the State of Texas to intimidate, harass, and target Twitter in retaliation for Twitter’s exercise of its First Amendment rights,” the lawsuit states. “The rights of free speech and of the press afforded Twitter under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution include the right to make decisions about what content to disseminate through its platform. This right specifically includes the discretion to remove or otherwise restrict access to Tweets, profiles, or other content posted to Twitter. AG Paxton may not compel Twitter to publish such content over its objection, and he may not penalize Twitter for exercising its right to exclude such content from its platform.”
A spokesperson for the company reiterated the free speech issue at the center of the controversy in a statement on Tuesday.
“A core part of Twitter’s mission is to protect freedom of expression and defend an Open Internet,” the statement read. “We work every day to protect those interests for the people who use our service around the world. The First Amendment protects everyone’s right to free speech, including private businesses.”
The company alleges it made several attempts to reach out to Paxton’s office to narrow the scope of the all-encompassing CID, but said the AG refused to budge.
“Instead, AG Paxton made clear that he will use the full weight of his office, including his expansive investigatory powers, to retaliate against Twitter for having made editorial decisions with which he disagrees,” the complaint states.
Twitter filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, noting that Paxton “consented, and waived any objection, to jurisdiction and venue […] by agreeing to the Twitter User Agreement, which provides that ‘All disputes related to these Terms or the Services’ will be litigated ‘solely in the federal or state courts located in San Francisco County, California, United States.’”
Earlier this month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced his support for a bill to make it illegal for social media companies to “censor” Texans’ viewpoints. Abbott’s proposal was met with widespread condemnation by legal experts who said that the measure was not only unconstitutional but also clearly preempted by federal law.
Read the full lawsuit below:
[image via Gabriel Aponte/Getty Images for Concordia Summit]
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