15 plaintiffs are suing the tech giant and claim it was coerced into action by the government.
A group of YouTubers whose channels were deleted earlier this month amid a purge of conspiracy theory content from the site are suing the tech giant for allegedly violating their First Amendment rights to broadcast political speech on matters of public interest — and they’re seeking an emergency injunction to regain access to the platform.
YouTube on Oct. 15 announced it would be expanding its hate and harassment policies to prohibit “content that threatens or harasses someone by suggesting they are complicit in one of these harmful conspiracies, such as QAnon or Pizzagate.” (The announcement followed on the heels of a similar crackdown against QAnon by Facebook.)
Polly St. George, Scott DeGroat, David J. Hayes, Daniel Lee, Mishel McCumber, Jeff Pedersen, Jordan Sather, Sarah Westall and a handful of John Does on Monday sued the site and its parent company Google alleging that they’re being censored because of their conservative views and are losing access to their audiences right before the election.
Collectively the 15 plantiffs had operated 17 channels that they say were categorized as either news or news and politics on the site and, according to their complaint, had a combined 4.5 million subscribers.
They argue that YouTube breached its own terms of service by terminating or suspending them without cause, failing to tell them the reason for termination or suspension and not giving them sufficient time to export their content from the platform.
“Plaintiffs remain baffled as to what, specifically in their content led them to be part of the massive de-platforming, other than the commonality that they are conservative news channels with widespread audience reach,” writes attorney M. Cris Armenta in the complaint, which was filed in California federal court and is posted below.
With regard to the First Amendment claim, Armenta argues YouTube “engaged in state action by capitulating to government coercion” to purge the accounts. While the attorney acknowledges that most Writes Armenta, “YouTube ‘hopped to it’ shortly after Congress passed H.R. 1154, a resolution condemning the existence of a certain type of conservative content on social-media platforms.”
The resolution, which was introduced by Rep. Tom Malinowski in September, states that the House of Representatives “condemns QAnon and rejects the conspiracy theories it promotes.” It also condemns all other ideologies “from the far left to the far right” and encourages the FBI and other law enforcement agencies “to strengthen their focus on preventing violence, threats, harassment, and other criminal activity by extremists motivated by fringe political conspiracy theories.”
Armenta suggests that YouTube executed the purge because the FCC is reexamining the scope of the immunity granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the Department of Justice just filed an antitrust suit against Google (which it called the “monopoly gatekeeper of the Internet”). So, he argues, the company wants to “play ball” with the government and therefore it can’t rely on a usually successful defense that its a private company and therefore not bound by the First Amendment.
The exiled YouTubers are asking the court to make YouTube restore the channels and videos to the state they were in on Oct. 15. They also intend to amend their complaint to add monetary damages after their request for emergency relief is resolved.
Google has not yet responded to a request for comment on the complaint.