Federal court rules tech giants can censor content

A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that internet giants like Google and Facebook can censor content on their platforms, rebuking arguments from conservatives who claim the tech companies violate users’ First Amendment rights by removing certain messages or videos.

With its unanimous opinion, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals became the latest court to dismiss arguments that platforms like YouTube can be sued under the First Amendment for decisions on content moderation.

“Despite YouTube’s ubiquity and its role as a public-facing platform, it remains a private forum, not a public forum subject to judicial scrutiny under the First Amendment,” Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown, a Clinton appointee, wrote in the opinion.

The three-judge panel upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss the case.

Dennis Prager, founder of the conservative advocacy organization Prager University, first sued Google in 2017 over claims that its subsidiary YouTube was prioritizing left-leaning content over Prager U’s popular conservative videos.

Prager U lost the case when U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, an Obama appointee, declared that YouTube is a private company and therefore can’t be treated similarly to state actors.

Prager argued that YouTube, which has 2 billion users worldwide, functions as a “public square” because of its ubiquity.

But on Wednesday, McKeown wrote, “YouTube does not perform a public function by inviting public discourse on its property. To characterize YouTube as a public forum would be a paradigm shift.”

Google has continued to insist that its products are not politically biased and that Prager’s claims were “meritless.”