Appeals court sides with tech giants in activists’ lawsuit

National
Laura Loomer

FILE – In this Jan. 19, 2019, file photo, political activist Laura Loomer holds uo a sign across the street from a rally organized by Women’s March NYC after she barged onto the stage interrupting Women’s March NYC director Agunda Okeyo who was speaking during a rally in New York. Loomer was escorted off the stage after the incident. A federal appeals court on Wednesday, May 27, 2020, upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit that accused Twitter, Facebook and other tech giants of conspiring to stifle the political views of a far-right activist and a conservative nonprofit. A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Loomer and Freedom Watch Inc. don’t have any viable claims that the companies violated their First Amendment free speech rights. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit that accused Twitter, Facebook and other tech giants of conspiring to stifle the political views of a far-right activist and a conservative nonprofit.

A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Laura Loomer and Freedom Watch Inc. don’t have any viable claims that the companies violated their First Amendment free speech rights.

In November 2018, Loomer handcuffed herself to the front doors of Twitter headquarters in New York after the company banned her. The company permanently suspended Loomer’s account, which had more than 260,000 followers, after she tweeted that Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, is “anti Jewish” and supports Sharia law.

Facebook also banned Loomer, who is running for a Florida congressional seat as a Republican.

Freedom Watch is a political interest group founded by attorney Larry Klayman, who named Black Lives Matter as a defendant in a lawsuit he filed in Texas after the 2016 sniper attack on Dallas police officers. Klayman also sued former President Barack Obama, former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other political figures, accusing them of inciting a “race war” against police officers.

The lawsuit filed by Loomer and Freedom Watch also accused Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.

In March 2019, U.S District Judge Trevor McFadden said their suit raises “non-trivial concerns” but didn’t tie these concerns to viable legal claims.

The judge also rejected their discrimination claims that the online platforms are “places of public accommodation” under the D.C. Human Rights Act. The D.C. Court of Appeals has held that a place of public accommodation must be a physical location, the judge noted.

“Indisputably, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have changed the ways people interact with each other, and these social media networks now permeate most aspects of our lives. But any decision to extend the coverage of existing laws to these networks must be made elsewhere,” McFadden wrote.

Company lawyers argued that private online service providers are not “state actors,” so their moderation of online content moderation is not limited by the First Amendment. The appeals court panel agreed, saying the First Amendment generally “prohibits only governmental abridgment of speech.”

“Freedom Watch’s First Amendment claim fails because it does not adequately allege that the Platforms can violate the First Amendment,” the panel’s four-page ruling says.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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