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Judge Dismisses Twitter’s Lawsuit Against Texas Attorney General

A California judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Twitter to block Attorney General Ken Paxton from retaliating against its decision to ban former President Donald Trump. 

In a seven-page ruling, the judge explained that Twitter’s suit was untimely because when it was filed, Paxton had not carried out his January records request relating to Twitter’s content moderation policies.

Here’s what we know about the Twitter lawsuit and the reasoning behind the judge’s dismissal. We also look at the problem of censorship on social media today.

What Is the Twitter Lawsuit About?

Twitter gave Trump’s account a permanent ban following the riot on the U.S. Capitol building. The January 6th riot made international news and resulted in five fatalities. In its reasoning for the ban, the company said Trump’s posts threatened to cause more violence. 

The false statements Trump made on social media may have been a catalyst for the riot. Critics say that Trump’s repeated tweets about a fraudulent 2020 election were enough to spark the insurrection. And indeed, Trump’s departure from social media had an immediate effect. A recent study by Zignal Labs revealed that misinformation relating to false election claims dropped by over 70% following Trump’s ban on Twitter and other social media platforms.

A week after Trump’s ban, Paxton announced an investigation into Twitter and four other major tech companies. He accused the companies of a “seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President.”

Paxton’s office asked the companies to reveal different records relating to their content moderation policies. His office demanded Twitter’s information on its “practices regarding what can be posted on its platform.” Paxton claimed that the platform’s policies go against Texas consumer protection laws.

Twitter retaliated by suing Paxton on March 8th, asking the court to block his office’s request. The company stated that Paxton’s investigation is a form of retaliation for Trump’s ban.

Why Did the Judge Dismiss the Case?

In her ruling, Senior U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney of San Francisco determined that Paxton’s administrative summons were not self-executing. Because of this, Twitter did not need to comply without a court order, she said.

In Chesney’s seven-page ruling, the judge said Paxton took no legal action to implement his summons and Twitter did not need to comply without court intervention. 

She dismissed Twitter’s lawsuit, explaining that the request for a court declaration and injunction against Paxton was hasty. Paxton, meanwhile, had a different take. He stated that the lawsuit was Twitter’s attempt to avoid answering his questions about its alleged large-scale censorship and content-moderation policies.

Twitter claims private companies have the same rights to free speech as individuals. In this instance, the Attorney General is abusing the power of his office to undermine the company’s fundamental rights. 

This isn’t Paxton’s only ongoing legal dispute; he faces an FBI investigation for allegedly using his office to benefit a wealthy donor. He is also awaiting trial for an unrelated securities fraud charges from 2015.

The Problem of Social Media Censorship

Do social media companies have too much power over speech? People don’t only accuse Twitter of censorship; Facebook, YouTube, and Google have also received similar accusations.

In the months following Twitter’s ban of Donald Trump, Facebook took a stance against proposed Australian legislation. It even stopped publishing news in Australia for five days.  

In that incident, the Australian government wanted tech companies to pay for news shared on their platforms. So, it passed the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining to force companies like Google and Facebook to pay publishers for news content. Under the law, Facebook and Google are required to negotiate licensing agreements with publishers for the news articles that appear on their respective platforms. 

In turn, Facebook responded by announcing that it was no longer sharing news in Australia. The tech titan lifted the ban five days later after the Australian government offered concessions. 

The demand for regulation of social media companies is often politically motivated. In the Facebook vs. Australia case, it was Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp that lobbied for the law. 

In the U.S., conservatives are now clamoring for social network regulation. This is because of the argument that receiving a ban is equal to censorship, which violates their constitutional right to freedom of speech. However, First Amendment protections only apply to government censorship. Social media companies are private corporations and are therefore exempt. In fact, any attempt made by the government to influence the content on these platforms may be a violation of the First Amendment.

It’ll be interesting to see what impact, if any, the banning of Donald Trump and other popular conservative voices will have on social media platforms.