US court rules tech companies can constitutionally censor content

Source:AFP Published: 2020/2/27 18:03:40

Tech giants including Google are free to censor content as they wish, a US court ruled Wednesday, in a landmark freedom-of-speech case concerning private internet platforms.

Wang Jie, a fulltime writer and vocal online proponent of the popularization of science, speaks at Duke Kunshan University's first TEDx Talk on Wednesday in Kunshan, Jiangsu Province. File photo

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.

Despite its two billion monthly users, Google-owned YouTube "remains a private forum, not a public forum subject to judicial scrutiny under the First Amendment," the court found.

Conservative nonprofit PragerU had 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.

But in a written opinion for the three-judge panel, Circuit Judge M. 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.

"Google's products are not politically biased," YouTube spokesman Farshad Shadloo wrote in a statement to AFP.

"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."

The appeals court's decision upheld an earlier lower court ruling. But PragerU vowed not to abandon its case, saying not done fighting for free speech.

Posted in: AMERICAS

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