BAILEY T. STEEN | FRIDAY, 21 JUNE, 2018
California’s Superior Court Judge has moved to proceed with a case brought about by Jared Taylor, the controversial alt-right political commentator, who claimed the Twitter platform violated his free speech rights protected under the First Amendment once his account was permanently suspended last year.
The Associated Press reports that while Judge Harold Kahn of San Francisco rejected Taylor’s claims that the platform was in violation of the United States constitution, Twitter’s request to dismiss the lawsuit entirely, citing the First Amendment as their reason why they can ban anyone, was also denied. Judge Kahn writes this is a “classic public interest lawsuit” that “goes to the heart of free speech principles that long precede our constitution.”
He went to agree with Taylor, the self-described “white advocate”, in his allegations that Twitter are inconsistently violating their own terms of service policies. For Twitter to suspend accounts “at any time, for any reason or for no reason”, the judge argued this may constitute an “unconscionable contract” breach from a platform often claiming they believe in free speech. Instead the scope of the lawsuit has been narrowed with the courts investigating whether the platform violated California’s Unfair Competition Law by making misleading statements about its position on freedom of speech.
“This ruling has massive implications for the platform going forward,” said Noah Peters, Jared Taylor’s lawyer, told Breitbart News earlier this week. “This is the first time that a social media company’s argument that it can censor user speech has been rejected by a court.”
Taylor, founder and reigning editor-in-chief of American Renaissance, a known far-right white nationalist publication, was among those targeted during Twitter’s mass-crackdown on “racist” accounts in early December. It began with Twitter administrators removing the blue verification checkmark on personal and business profiles like Taylor’s, later addressing the criticisms from users that mistook the symbol to mean endorsement… by releasing a statement which gave that narrative legitimacy:
“Verification has long been perceived as endorsement,” Twitter Support wrote. “We gave verified accounts visual prominence on the service which deepened this perception. We should have addressed this earlier but did not prioritize the work as we should have. This perception became worse when we opened up verification for public submissions and verified people who we in no way endorse. We will continue to review and take action as we work towards a new program we are proud of.”
There’s no doubting the views of Taylor and his company of alt-right shitposters are beyond the realm of respectability. Taylor’s career has often centered around the idea of “race realism”, otherwise counter-labelled as “scientific racism”, which examines the average I.Q. results among races to demonstrate the various differences between them.
This wouldn’t be so objectionable if it weren’t also being used in order to justify the far-right’s abhorrent social behaviours and political policies against minorities, which outright cross into segregation endorsements with their championing for mythical “white ethno-states”. To view Taylor in this light isn’t controversial. It’s just common sense morality. That said, is a social media outlet like Twitter, the so-called “neutral public forum”, justified in removal?
On June 1st, TrigTent reported on U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald who issued a modern interpretation of the first amendment which argued that President Donald Trump, under the personal moniker of @realDonaldTrump, could no longer block his critics on Twitter as it violated their rights. Her argument was the troll-in-chief was using the platform as a “limited public forum”, meaning there was a present link between government and business and authorities may not discriminate expression based on the expressed viewpoints of the public.
We questioned whether this standard only applied to politicians, now unable to block their citizens without consequence, or whether it extends to former Twitter users such as Milo Yiannopoulos, the Florida-based libertarian journalist, who can no longer access his highest representative or express his right-wing views on the platform for unspecified reasons. Can’t this also apply to Taylor and all former users? Regardless of their problematic past? Consider arguments that suggest Twitter, in order to remain legally protected under Section 230 of 1996’s Communications Decency Act, must conduct itself as a “neutral public forum” that doesn’t discriminate based on political/social views. Or the California law that frame the company something it is not. Eliminating abhorrent yet legal views like racism, while admirable, may apply as violations in the eyes of the courts.
Big tech monopolies like Twitter, Facebook and Google — the usual suspects in online censorship — present themselves no different than newspapers, arguing they have the First Amendment right to publish or restrict whatever they see fit on their platform. This isn’t necessarily the case under Section 230, the provision that keeps forums from facing punishment for the content of third-party creators and its existence on their site.
Think if a newspaper such as The New York Times were to post an outright lie about you, slandering your name as some kind of rapist or racist, they would be dragged through the courts and held to account for journalistic malpractice. The same can’t be done with forums like Twitter and Facebook, freely available to the public, unless they were to abandon their forum status, editorialise the network and endorse some kind of ideological slant. This suppression, which can be argued as their First Amendment right, could be used as an example of a private entity wielding censorship powers that would be condemned if it was government. Why the free pass for the free market?
Time and time again big tech show their true colours as tyrannical editors rather than neutral administrators. According to Eric Goldman, co-director for the Santa Clara University High Tech Law Institute, who recently spoke with The Verge, it’s likely the plaintiffs “might be entitled to damages” if their case is victorious, while while restoration of their accounts remains to be seen. “But it’s not clear to me that they can force Twitter to carry their content.”
Thanks for reading!
Bailey T. Steen is a journalist, editor, artist and film critic based in Victoria, Australia, but is also Putin’s Puppet™ on occasion.
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Cheers, darlings!! 💋