A federal judge in the Northern District of California has dismissed a suit by former President Donald Trump, the American Conservative Union and five other individuals against Twitter for banning their accounts following posts deemed by the company to run afoul of its terms of service.gov.uscourts.cand_.387133.165.0_7
Trump’s account was suspended on January 8, 2021, following the insurrection at the US Capitol. At the time, Twitter stated it had taken action against Trump’s account “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
The plaintiffs sought redress “under the First Amendment and Florida state consumer and ‘social media’ statutes,” and wanted “a declaration that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that online service providers like Twitter cannot be held responsible for content posted by others, is unconstitutional.” They argued that Twitter had been coerced to take action against the accounts of Trump and the other plaintiffs by “members of Congress affiliated with the Democratic Party.”
As to the argument that the case should be considered under the First Amendment, the judge ruled that “the facts alleged in the amended complaint are not nearly enough for plaintiffs to proceed on a state action theory,” and that the explanations the plaintiffs offered in their rationale in fact “indicate that Twitter acted in response to factors specific to each account, and not pursuant to a state rule of decision.” Twitter, he ruled, cannot “fairly be deemed to be a state actor.”
The judge also found that the statements the plaintiffs alleged proved that Democrats had “coerced” Twitter into censoring content did not, in fact, say what the plaintiffs claimed. “The actual quotes do not live up to that billing,” concludes the order. The complaint referenced, for instance, comments made by Democrats during a House hearing on disinformation.
The claim that Section 230 is unconstitutional was dismissed “for lack of standing.” The claim under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act was dismissed “because plaintiffs have agreed, pursuant to the Twitter Terms of Service (TOS), that California law will govern all disputes that arise between Twitter and its users.” A claim under Florida’s Stop Social Media Censorship Act was also dismissed, because only “one named plaintiff … was a Florida resident with any active Twitter account at the time the statute took effect on July 1, 2021,” the conduct occurred before the law’s effective date, and because the courts already decided “Florida government officials were enjoined from enforcing the SSMCA” last year.
Billionaire Elon Musk, who seeks to acquire Twitter, could decide to reverse the ban on Trump’s account if the sale goes through. The former President said last month he would not return to the platform, even if Musk reversed the ban. Trump has recently launched a competitive platform, Truth Social, which the Republican National Committee is promoting in emails.
The plaintiffs may amend their complaint.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.