Thursday, July 7, 2022

Judge dismisses lawsuit against Donald Trump’s Twitter ban

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A California district judge has dismissed Donald Trump’s lawsuit against Twitter, saying the former president’s 2021 ban from the platform appears perfectly legal. The orderhanded down today, Trump and a group of other banned users have until May 27 to file an amended complaint.

But while it leaves the door open to appeal, the injunction is highly critical of the lawsuit’s claims — suggesting any modified version will face an uphill battle. Specifically, the injunction rejects Trump’s claims that Twitter has violated the First Amendment and dismisses a claim that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is unconstitutional.

“Plaintiffs are not starting from a strong position,” Judge James Donato noted in the first paragraph of his analysis. Things don’t get any better for Trump and his fellow Twitter exiles from then on.

Trump filed the lawsuit in Florida last year but was later moved to Twitter’s home state, California, as were similar lawsuits against YouTube and Meta (then Facebook). Trump failed in an early attempt to get Twitter to reinstate his account as the trial progressed, and filed an amended complaint to bolster his case.

But Judge Donato found that Twitter was not operating as a state actor when it banned Trump — a claim Trump made by noting that some lawmakers had called on Twitter to remove him from the platform.

“Lawmakers are completely free to express their views without being considered the official voice of ‘the state,'” the ruling reads, dismissing a “grabbag” of accusations citing several Democratic elected officials seeking a ban. ask. Even harsh congressional commentary, it concludes, “fits within the normal confines of a congressional investigation, as opposed to threats of punitive state action.”

Section 230’s claim failed because Trump and his co-plaintiffs failed to demonstrate any connection between the law and their ban. They also failed to convince the judge to enforce a Florida-based deceptive business rule in the California court, and the injunction concludes that Twitter probably didn’t violate it either. “The [terms of service] expressly states that Twitter may suspend or terminate an account “at any time and for no reason,” Judge Donato noted. “It also states that Twitter may remove or refuse to distribute content. There is nothing coy or misleading about these provisions.”

Trump has failed to enforce Florida’s Stop Social Media Censorship Act, a rule currently stuck in courts anyway.

Trump cannot add new claims to an amended application, and barring a dramatic shift in the judge’s reasoning, the final decision will be much like this one. Twitter could still voluntarily reinstate Trump’s account — and after billionaire Elon Musk’s impending purchase, it’s a plausible outcome. But the case continues a long string of legal failures for people suing social networks for banning them.

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