SAN FRANCISCO – A producer of online civics lessons with a conservative bent got schooled by a federal judge on why it’s hard to sue Google for censorship.
The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment bars the government from silencing people over their political views, but it doesn’t require private companies to be free speech zones.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh dismissed a lawsuit accusing YouTube of illegally restricting access to dozens of short videos on public affairs topics produced by Prager University, a nonprofit started by conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager. A filter that YouTube says is used to protect young, sensitive viewers from inappropriate content is actually “a political gag mechanism to silence PragerU,” the nonprofit said in its complaint.
Google and YouTube “are 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,” the judge in San Jose, California, said in her decision Monday. Prager failed to show the companies “have somehow engaged in one of the very few functions that were traditionally exclusively reserved to the state.”
The ruling may do little to satisfy conservatives who have escalated complaints in recent months that their views are stifled on Silicon Valley’s leading social media networks.
Twitter Inc. faces multiple lawsuits filed this year by alt-right commentators who claim they were banned from the platform not for advocating violence but because of their opinions. Other conservatives have accused Twitter of unfairly targeting their followers in its efforts to get rid of fake accounts, saying in February that thousands of followers were deleted overnight.
YouTube was accused of censorship in March by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry lobbying group, after it quietly introduced tighter restrictions on videos involving weapons ahead of a rally organized by survivors of the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.
Google, meanwhile, was sued in January by two of its former engineers over its “open hostility for conservative thought” and accused in a separate complaint in March by one of its former recruiters of illegal bias against white and Asian male job candidates.