A federal appeals court on Wednesday found in favor of technology companies Facebook (META 5.10%), Twitter (TWTR 0.39%), Apple (AAPL 1.89%), and Google, a division of Alphabet (GOOGL 4.16%) (GOOG 4.41%), dismissing a suit that alleged the companies had engaged in a far-reaching conspiracy to suppress conservative viewpoints on their respective online platforms.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C., Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling, dismissing a lawsuit brought by far-right YouTube provocateur Laura Loomer and Freedom Watch, an organization founded by conspiracy theorist and serial lawsuit-filer Larry Klayman, who accused the four tech titans of conspiring to violate their free speech rights and breaking antitrust laws. The lawsuit was filed after Facebook and Twitter banned Loomer for espousing anti-Muslim views and violating the platforms' rules against hate speech and bullying.
The three-judge panel unanimously and soundly rejected the plaintiffs' claims.
The court found that the complaint did not provide sufficient evidence that antitrust laws had been violated. The court also noted that the First Amendment shields citizens from most governmental interference with free speech, but that those protections do not apply to decisions made by companies in the private sector.
"Freedom Watch's First Amendment claim fails because it does not adequately allege that the Platforms can violate the First Amendment. In general, the First Amendment 'prohibits only governmental abridgment of speech,'" the court wrote, citing a previous opinion issued by the D.C. Court of Appeals. The judges went on to say that "'a private entity who provides a forum for speech is not transformed by that fact alone into a state actor.'"
More importantly, the court found that there was simply no evidence to support the allegations that the technology platforms conspired with each other.
The court's decision came on a day when President Trump launched a barrage of attacks against Twitter, threatening to shut down or strongly regulate social media after Twitter applied a fact-check label to several of his tweets. Twitter has begun using such labels in an effort to push back against the use of its platform to spread misinformation.