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Appeals Court Rules YouTube Can Censor Content in PragerU Case

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  • A federal appeals court ruled YouTube is not subject to the First Amendment and can censor content on its platform as part of a long-running lawsuit filed by conservative nonprofit PragerU.
  • The lawsuit alleged that YouTube demonetized and limited some of PragerU’s videos because it is biased against conservatives.
  • PragerU called the move censorship and discrimination, arguing that YouTube should be treated like the government, not a private company, in matters of free speech.

PragerU Lawsuit

A federal appeals court in California ruled that privately-owned tech companies like YouTube are not bound to the First Amendment and can censor content.

The decision comes from a 2017 lawsuit against YouTube and its parent company Google that was filed by PragerU, a nonprofit headed by Dennis Prager. The company filed its complaint after YouTube demonetized and restricted some of its videos. 

PragerU accused YouTube of being biased against conservative views, arguing that the decision amounted to discrimination and censorship. The lawsuit claims that YouTube had intentionally demonetized and restricted the videos “as a political gag mechanism to silence PragerU.”

The lawsuit also argued that YouTube regulates free speech on a “public forum,” and so it should be subject to the same scrutiny that the government is under the First Amendment.

To argue this point, the lawsuit cited the Supreme Court case Marsh v. Alabama. In that case, the court ruled that a Jehovah’s Witness had the right to give out leaflets in a town fully owned by a corporation.

A District judge dismissed the lawsuit in March 2018. In her decision, Judge Lucy Koh cited a more recent Supreme Court ruling in Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner, where the court decided that a mall could ban people from distributing anti-Vietnam War fliers on its property. 

In that ruling, the Supreme Court also clarified that Marsh v. Alabama could be only be applied to the town in the case.

Appeals Court

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Koh’s decision, again ruling against PragerU.

“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,” Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote in the panel’s decision.

“PragerU’s claim that YouTube censored PragerU’s speech faces a formidable threshold hurdle: YouTube is a private entity. The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government— not a private party— from abridging speech.”

In their decision, the appellate judges pointed to a Supreme Court ruling from last year, where the highest court found that, “merely hosting speech by others is not a traditional, exclusive public function and does not alone transform private entities into state actors subject to First Amendment constraints.”

The judges also shot down a claim that YouTube was guilty of false advertising. 

Response

A YouTube spokesperson defended the social media platform and its parent company in a statement following the court’s ruling.

“Google’s products are not politically biased,” the spokesperson said. “PragerU’s allegations were meritless, both factually and legally, and the court’s ruling vindicates important legal principles that allow us to provide different choices and settings to users.”

PragerU, however, appears to believe the fight is not over.

“Obviously, we are disappointed,” the organization’s lawyer told the Wall Street Journal. “We will continue to pursue PragerU’s claims of overt discrimination on YouTube in the state court case under California’s heightened antidiscrimination, free-speech and consumer-contract law.”

But many have noted, that the ruling was not unexpected at all. According to the Journal, no court has supported PragerU’s legal argument, as it is widely accepted that free speech constraints are applied only to the government and not private entities.

The argument that social media companies like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook should be pinned to the First Amendment is one that has been growing more and more prominent, especially among conservative circles. 

Those who support this argument often believe that certain efforts by large tech companies to regulate content on their platforms are tantamount to censorship.

These arguments are almost certainly going to remain in the polarizing political discourses around free speech and social media. However, as the Journal argues, the appellate court’s decision is “the most emphatic rejection of the argument advanced in some conservative circles that YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other giant tech platforms are bound by the First Amendment.”

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (Ars Technica) (The Washington Examiner)

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Twitch Shares Its First-Ever Transparency Report, but Critics Want More Accountability

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  • Twitch released its first-ever Transparency Report on Tuesday in a continued effort to address toxic and harmful behavior on the platform.
  • While Twitch listed several statistics detailing how it’s taken action, many still accused the platform of ignoring user complaints.
  • The Anti-Defamation League also argued that Twitch’s report lacked additional vital data, including a list of the specific communities being targeted by hate speech on the streaming site.
  • The complaints against Twitch’s transparency culminated when a staff member directly told users that the platform would not be addressing why Dr Disrespect, a popular streamer, was permanently banned in June 2020.

Twitch’s Transparency Report

Twitch released its first-ever transparency report on Tuesday as part of a continued attempt to reduce hateful conduct, sexual harassment, violence, gore, nudity, and even terrorist propaganda on the platform.

In the report, Twitch notes that over the past year, it’s “made a 4X increase in the number of content moderation professionals available to respond to user reports.” In other words, Twitch is saying that it’s now much more likely users’ reports will be processed soon after being filed. 

Despite this, Twitch stopped short of saying how many moderators it actually employs.

In another statistic, Twitch said at least 92% of live content viewed on the platform last year “occurred in channels with chat that was moderated either by active moderators, or AutoMod, or both.”

Source: Twitch

Throughout the report, Twitch continues to list similar stats, including that the total number of enforcement actions on the platform rose 41% between the first and second half of the year.

Calls for More Accountability

Reaction to the data set has been mixed. While WIRED described the report “as a victory lap for [Twitch’s] recent moderation efforts,” the platform is still being plagued by criticism that it failed to ever take action against some user complaints.  

“I had [a] person send me repeated death threats and threats of violence,” one person tweeted. “I reported it to you several times providing screen shots and you took literally 0 action. If you are going to flex about keep people safe you might want to actually do something instead of whatever this is.”

Likewise, the Anti-Defamation League noted that Twitch’s report contains no information on specific communities being targeted by hate on the platform. 

As Nathan Grayson, a writer for Kotaku, noted, “The report contains a handful of other, similar data sets, most of which paint Twitch in a favorable light. Certainly, they’re a useful measure of Twitch’s growth in these areas… The problem with these kinds of reports, however, is that they have a way of appearing to say a lot while revealing very little.”

“Twitch has offered numbers and a small amount of context, but streamers and viewers remain in the dark on major issues that came to light last year,” Grayson continued.

Part of that involves last year’s permanent ban against Dr Disrespect, who was booted off Twitch in June after years of streaming and even a multi-year deal with the platform. To this day, it’s still unclear exactly what precipitated the ban. 

It also looks like (at least for now) it’s going to stay that way.

That’s because during Twitch’s Transparency Report Breakdown, one user popped into the chat and asked, “Any Dr. Disrespect news??”

Instead of Twitch ignoring the comment, a staff member flat out said, “no.”

Source: Twitch
See what others are saying: (Kotaku) (Dexerto) (Wired)

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James Charles Denies Grooming Allegations

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  • Over the weekend, a 16-year-old who goes by Isaiyah accused 21-year-old YouTuber James Charles of grooming him.
  • Isaiyah shared censored versions of nude photos James allegedly sent him as well as Snapchat messages showing the YouTuber allegedly asking for explicit photos. 
  • James denied the accusations, saying Isaiyah initiated contact with him, sent lewd photos first, and told him he was 18. James also claimed that once he learned Isaiyah was 16, he stopped contact, though Isaiyah insists this is not the case.
  • Since then, two more people have come forward with their own stories detailing situations where they felt James acted inappropriately with them.

James Charles Accused of Grooming

James Charles is denying grooming allegations after a 16-year-old posted videos accusing the YouTuber of sending and asking for explicit photos. 

The accuser, who goes by Isaiyah, shared his allegations in videos on both Twitter and TikTok last week. On the latter platform, he has over 260,000 followers.

Isaiyah claims that he and James began talking on Snapchat on February 17, and he hoped the conversation would give him a chance to interact with an influencer he looked up to. However, Isaiah says James ended up making their conversation sexual. 

He shared photos of their interactions, including one snap where James is allegedly asking for Isaiyah to send videos taken in the shower. In another, James appears to mention Isaiyah’s genitals and says, “I bet you can make me finish just by flexing and showing off your hair.”

Isaiyah also shared censored nude and partially nude images that James allegedly sent, which he says prompted him to tell the YouTuber he is only 16.

“I was getting really uncomfortable so I told him my age and I told him I was 16 and meanwhile, he’s 21, he’s a grown man,” Isaiyah said in the video. “And then he proceeds to say, ‘oh but I didn’t get to see the….yet’ meaning my body. And after telling him no, like I’m not going to send it to you, like, he kept asking for videos and pictures of body hair and me flexing and stuff.” 

Even after this, Isaiyah claims James still asked to FaceTime with him. He ultimately said the interaction left him seeing James in a new way. 

“I’ve heard multiple stories about him doing this to people but you never believe it until it happens to you,” Isaiyah said. “So now, I’m a big believer of what James Charles does to other people.” 

Both TikTok and Twitter have since removed the videos detailing these accusations, according to Insider. 

James Charles Denies Allegations

On Friday, James took to Twitter to tell his side of the story. He called the grooming accusations “completely false.” He then said he found Isaiyah on Instagram’s explore page.

He said he noticed that Isaiyah followed him, so he decided to add him on Snapchat. James also claims he woke up to multiple messages from Isaiyah saying how excited he was to speak to him, as well as lewd photos from him.

“I asked how old he was right away and he told me he was 18 so I started flirting back,” James continued, adding that he never saw ID to verify his age. 

It’s now clear, based on the video he uploaded, he was taking photos of me with another device, and had an ulterior motive from the beginning,” he continued.

“Later in the day, he said a few things that made me question the validity of his original age answer and when I asked him to confirm his age once again, he admitted he was 16.”

“I told him I was really uncomfortable and apologized for flirting, but he insisted on continuing talking, saying it could be our little secret, he’s a fan of mine and would never tell anyone,” the post continued. “I told him I wasn’t okay with this, he started getting upset, and at this point I unfriended him. We haven’t spoken since.”

James wrote that he was not trying to victim blame or make himself out as the victim, but instead wanted to share his story because he has dealt with accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior in the past. Moving forward, he stressed that he will ask people for their ID or passports to verify their age before speaking with them. 

Isaiyah shot back at James’ statement and insisted the popular influencer was well aware of his age. 

“James we both know I blocked you, you never asked for my age. After I told you I was 16 you proceeded to ask me for nudes and said it didn’t matter,” he wrote. “You called me hot and said ‘I wish the timeline could speed up so you can be 18.’”

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

“If you’re gonna text someone, make sure you know their age,” he added in another tweet. “He added me on insta, my insta has my tik tok which shows me age.”

In another post, he said he would be contacting the police about the situation. 

More People Speak Out

At least two more people have since come forward with their own stories about James over the weekend. One said on Twitter that they told James they were 17-years-old, but the YouTuber still flirted with them on social media.

They said nothing sexual happened; however, it still felt weird, making them feel compelled to share the story as others were speaking out. Those tweets have since been deleted. 

Another person, who goes by LifeOfUzzy on Twitter, said they had a “disgusting” experience with James. In a lengthy Twitter thread, he shared screenshots of their messages and a video his brother recorded of him opening a Snapchat from James as proof of their interactions. He claims that things started out fine but took a turn when James began flirting.

“We started talking for a little and he was actually A VERY NICE person the first few days. He told me he wasn’t looking for anything until he started calling me ‘daddy’ and ‘babe,’ LifeOfUzzy wrote.

He then shared a video of James allegedly spamming him, asking to do a video call, and apparently asking him to do “disgusting things.”

LifeOfUzzy wrote that after James allegedly used him for “sexual pleasure,” he sent James a message ending things and asking him to delete the pictures he screenshotted. 

LifeOfUzzy explained more details in a series of TikToks and a YouTube video, claiming he was just looking to get to know James, but that James clearly had no interest in this and was asking him for specific and explicit pictures. He said James stopped talking to him after declined. 

James has not responded to these two newer allegations yet. 

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Cosmopolitan) (Dexerto)

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Former Member of David Dobrik’s Vlog Squad Says He Was Sexually Assaulted by Jason Nash on Video

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  • Former Vlog Squad member Seth Francois says he was sexually assaulted in a 2017 prank that YouTubers David Dobrik and Jason Nash pulled on him.
  • Francois agreed to be in a video where he would make out with fellow Vlog Squad member Corinna Kopf while she was disguised as an old man. However, the costumed person he actually kissed was 45-year-old Nash.
  • In 2018, Dobrik pulled a nearly identical prank on Francois again, despite Francois repeatedly stating he was not okay with what happened.
  • Francois says he is not trying to “cancel” anyone but his attempts to resolve the matter behind closed doors with Dobrik have not been successful, so he felt he had to tell his story publicly. 

Seth Francois Calls Kissing Prank Sexual Assault

Former Vlog Squad member Seth Francois says he was sexually assaulted in a prank that massive YouTuber David Dobrik pulled on him with fellow creator Jason Nash. 

Francois first told his story to Ethan and Hila Klein on the H3 Podcast on Feb. 12. The prank in question happened in 2017. At the time, Dobrik asked Francois if he wanted to be in a video where he made out with Corinna Kopf while she was disguised as an old man. Francois agreed, but when he kissed the costumed person, Kopf was not the one behind the mask. Instead, it was 45-year-old Nash. 

“I was touched by someone I did not consent to,” Francois said on the podcast. 

He told BuzzFeed News that it felt wrong when it happened, but as more time passed, he began to feel even worse. He decided to call a sexual assault hotline to talk about and processs the situation. 

“They said, ‘I’m sorry you were sexually assaulted.’ And I broke down,” Francois told the outlet. “I called my mother and some of my close friends and I said, ‘I can’t believe that happened to me.'”

Francois said Dobrik asked if they could make a similar video again, but Francois refused, explaining he did not like the prank and did not want to have to go through that again. Still, in 2018 Dobrik ended up pulling a nearly identical stunt. 

The second time, Dobrik told Francois that they were making a commercial for Jack Link’s Jerky, which Francois was thrilled about. When Francois got to the set, there were people in gorilla costumes, and he was instructed to make out with one. When that person took their mask off, it was Nash again. 

Francois said this incident ultimately led to him moving out of Los Angeles.

Jack Link’s Jerky has since tweeted that they were not involved in the stunt and do not condone any non-consensual conduct that occurred. 

Other Allegations Against Dobrik and The Vlog Squad

On top of all this, Francois said that during his time in the Vlog Squad, he was pressured to participate in racist jokes that played into stereotypes about Black people. He felt he could not say no to these bits.

“It was an unwritten thing where you see a pattern of people saying, ‘Yo, I’m uncomfortable with this,’ and all of a sudden they disappear and they’re not in videos anymore,” he explained on the H3 Podcast. 

These are just the latest in a series of accusations former Vlog Squad members have made about Dobrik, Nash, and group’s general culture. Nik Keswani, known to fans as Big Nik, explained to H3 that the group was “toxic” and like a cult. Keswani said that he was bullied and felt forced to make jokes about his own size, which led to other people thinking they could make fun of him in cruel ways. 

YouTuber Trisha Paytas has also accused Dobrik and Nash of inappropriate behavior on multiple occasions. Both she and Francois also say they have heard rumors about Nash assaulting other people or sleeping with minors. In some cases, Paytas says victims have contacted her directly about it. 

Dobrik has not commented on the sexual assault allegations brought up by Francois, but over the summer he did issue a general apology for offensive content he had posed in his past. 

“I want them to have a positive experience when they interact with anything I produce,” he said on his podcast, “Views.”

“And with that being said, I feel like on a handful of occasions I just missed the mark on that, and that really bums me out.”

Why Francois Is Speaking Out

For a long time, Dobrik has been a top creator on YouTube. He is known for his Tesla giveaways and was dubbed Gen Z’s Jimmy Fallon by The Wall Street Journal. Francois said he felt the need to speak out because he fears Dobrik is not remorseful and is unaware of the harm he has caused. 

“If [Dobrik and Nash] don’t know what’s wrong and they don’t understand that what they did was wrong, it makes me feel like that could still happen. Or maybe it has happened to other people who are afraid of speaking up,” he told BuzzFeed

Francois said that he has asked for the videos to be removed, but Dobrik tried to offer him cash to keep them up. Dobrik eventually unlisted both prank videos and later privated the second one.

Francois has since tried to resolve the matter privately but has not gotten a response from Dobrik. He told Insider that his goal in speaking up is not to “cancel” anyone, though he felt he had no option but to make the matter public. He is now also considering legal action, which is a path he initially did not want to go down.

“People were saying I’ve betrayed David, but I feel like he betrayed me,” he told the outlet. “I was very hurt and even right now talking about it, it really makes you want to cry.”

“They profited off causing me a lot of mental trauma, which is something that really hurts to know,” he continued. 

Now, people are calling for Dobrik to respond to the allegations. Many are starting to see his content in a new light and believe he should issue an apology. 

See what others are saying: (BuzzFeed News) (Insider) (Yahoo)

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