Judge James Donato of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ruled on Friday to reject former President Donald Trump’s lawsuit against Twitter for suspending him last year.
The case dates back to January 2021, where, following the January 6th storming of the Capitol Building, Trump was first temporarily then permanently banned by multiple social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter. The social media sites said that they banned his account due to fears that he could use them to incite violence. The official Twitter Safety account specifically noted that “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.https://t.co/CBpE1I6j8Y
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) January 8, 2021
Trump quickly went on the offensive, intensifying efforts following the end of his term on January 2oth. In July of 2021, Trump and his legal team finally built up their cases enough to sue Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. In the lawsuits, Trump claimed that they had violated his first amendment right to freedom of speech. In the filings, Trump’s lawyers had argued that “Twitter exercises a degree of power and control over political discourse in this country that is immeasurable, historically unprecedented, and profoundly dangerous to open democratic debate.”
The media companies quickly motioned the courts to move the cases from the U.S. District Court of South Florida, where they were filed, to Northern California. This was granted, with Trump v. Twitter becoming the first to be heard. Twitter also fired back against Trump’s allegations, saying specifically that they didn’t want any further tweets to bring more violence akin to the Capitol incident.
Judge Donato, an Obama court appointee, sided with Twitter on Friday after a lengthy court process, saying that he was dismissing the case because it was ambiguous and non-plausible that Twitter was acting for the U.S. Government in shutting down his account, meaning that his first amendment rights were not violated. The Judge also dismissed an argument that Twitter had not worked with the U.S. Government to put the ban through Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, a law that clears liability for internet companies from moderating message board posts.
“Plaintiffs offer only ambiguous and open-ended statements to the effect that ‘we may legislate’ something unfavorable to Twitter or the social media sector,” said Donato in his case dismissal on Friday. “There is no way to allege with any degree of plausibility when, if ever, the comments voiced by a handful of members of Congress might become a law, or what changes such a law might impose on social media companies like Twitter. Much of what plaintiffs challenge fits within the normal boundaries of a congressional investigation, as opposed to threats of punitive state action.”
“The government cannot plausibly be said to have compelled Twitter’s action through Section 230, which in any event imposed no affirmative obligations on Twitter to act in any particular way.”
Donato rules against Trump
However, despite the ruling, both supporters and opponents of the ruling remained cautious, as the recent pending sale of Twitter to Elon Musk may make the cases moot if he decides to reinstate banned users, including Trump, in the near future.
“Normally, a ruling like this would be a hard slamming of the door on where everyone could go from here,” Lance Tan, a social media legal advisor, told the Globe on Friday. “But there are now so many scenarios with Musk in charge. He may allow Trump to come back. He may move Twitter to a state with a judge who may think differently. He may uphold the ban like the court did and thus have Trump move to another place permanently. And of course there are the appeals. There’s no certain path from here.”
Trump’s cases against YouTube and Facebook are still pending as of Friday. Trump’s legal team has also not said whether or not if they would be appealing the case to a higher court.
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