SAN FRANCISCO: Tech giants including Google, Youtube, and Facebook are free to censor content as they wish, a US court has ruled in a landmark freedom of speech case concerning internet platforms.
The decision by San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit appeals court rejected a conservative news outlet’s claims that YouTube had breached the First Amendment by censoring its content. The US Constitution’s First Amendment prohibits the government, but not private parties, from censoring free speech.
The court found that YouTube “remains a private forum, not a public forum subject to judicial scrutiny under the First Amendment” despite the two billion monthly users.
Conservative non-profit PragerU argued that Google unlawfully limited access to its videos discussing topics such as male-female differences, environmental issues and other topics discussed on university campuses.
Google had acted “in an arbitrary or capricious manner that provides them with unbridled discretion to discriminate against a speaker based on her or his identity,” PragerU wrote in its original lawsuit.
It pointed to similar videos from more liberal accounts such as BuzzFeed, TEDx Talks and Real Time with Bill Maher which had not been restricted.
Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown said that no matter how many users platforms like YouTube may acquire, they do not become “state actors subject to First Amendment constraints.”
The ruling was welcomed by YouTube on Wednesday with a spokesman saying that Google’s products are not politically biased. “We go to extraordinary lengths to build our products and enforce our policies in such a way that political leanings are not taken into account,” said YouTube spokesman Farshad Shadloo.
He added: “PragerU’s allegations were meritless, both factually and legally, and the court’s ruling vindicates important legal principles that allow us to provide different choices and settings to users.”
The appeals court’s decision upheld an earlier lower court ruling but PragerU vowed not to abandon its case. PragerU chief executive officer Marissa Streit added: “Sadly, it appears as if even the Ninth Circuit is afraid of Goliath — Google. We’re not done fighting for free speech and we will keep pushing forward.”