An infamous white nationalist filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Twitter for removing his account — a legal complaint coincidentally registered at the same time a number of other people either with similar beliefs or mere conservatives had their accounts removed or diminished.
Jared Taylor, founder and editor of the white supremacist site American Renaissance, along with New Century Foundation, the organization in charge of publishing the digital magazine, are suing because they claim Twitter is discriminating against him by removing his account.
The suspension, the plaintiffs purport, isn’t due to Taylor violating any particular company policies, but rather because they disagree with his viewpoints. Thus, Twitter is violating California law, which protects free speech in public spaces, the lawsuit alleges, while also violating its own claims of being a neutral platform. Taylor’s attorneys argue that Twitter has effectively become a public forum, and California has ruled before that private entities can be counted as such, even if it hasn’t ever been applied specifically to the internet.
Twitter once went out of its way to ensure a free speech ethos was a fundamental part of their platform, even if the speech was unpopular. But, in November, a policy change stated that violent and hateful speech or content, an arguably ambiguous classification, would no longer be allowed and could result in account suspension.
Taylor asserts that he hasn’t advocated for violence and hasn’t associated with groups that do so.
Several others who affirm their innocence — some of which who have beliefs and content way less controversial than Taylor’s — claim that their accounts overnight have lost thousands of followers, been locked, or in some way restricted, if not completely removed. The unconfirmed move by the social media company caused #TwitterLockOut to eventually trend on the platform throughout the morning and day Wednesday.
“Allowing Twitter to ban individuals based on the viewpoints and supposed off-platform affiliations would have an obvious chilling effect on free speech,” Noah Peters, Taylor’s attorney, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “And it would open up a Pandora’s box that would allow major tech companies to effectively control public debate via censorship. While Jared Taylor may be controversial, the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.'”
“Our free speech precedents developed in cases involving Communists, draft dodgers, and religion,” he continued.
The Communications Decency Act enacted in 1996 is meant to “encourage the unfettered and unregulated development of free speech on the Internet,” Peters cited to TheDCNF. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy nonprofit, calls it “the most important law protecting internet speech.”
Peters says that he and the other two lawyers representing Taylor — one of whom used to serve in the Federal Communications Commission — aren’t against Twitter’s right to suspend accounts that are used to threaten and harass other users. Rather, they are against the enforcement of such rules in a non-“viewpoint-neutral manner.”
Twitter apparently has exceptions to its rules, sparing President Donald Trump, but not white nationalists, affiliates of the so-called alt right and the ilk, nor just ardent conservatives.
I’ve lost close to 1,000 followers offer the past few hours.
Major purge underway.
— Richard Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) February 21, 2018
Taylor isn’t the only person to file suit on tech companies over allegations of discrimination against their viewpoints. But — as in the case of Prager University, a conservative nonprofit suing Google for allegedly restricting content — not all plaintiffs cherish and share innocuous opinions. White supremacists like Taylor, of course, often espouse the supremacy of their race, and in doing so can cross the line of what is merely racist pontification into what could conceivably be regarded as indirect or direct threats.
Twitter, and other social media companies like Facebook and Google, have more than considered complaints from users that the respective platforms have grown too vitriolic. By altering their policies, and even the technology that made some so successful, the companies are playing a dicey game where free speech stalwarts are pitted against hate speech-fighting crusaders.
With a more strict definition, deciphering what is a threat or harassment, and what is not, will be a hard-pressed task for Twitter and the rest of the industry. And while it tries to engage in this delicate balance, it will continue to be hit with complaints, both unofficial and legal, that it is partaking in a censorship campaign.
Twitter did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment pertaining to Taylor’s lawsuit and the reported “purge” in time of publication.
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