- 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.
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.
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.
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)
Schools Across the U.S. Cancel Classes Friday Over Unverified TikTok Threat
Officials in multiple states said they haven’t found any credible threats but are taking additional precautions out of an abundance of safety.
Schools in no fewer than 10 states either canceled classes or increased their police presence on Friday after a series of TikToks warned of imminent shooting and bombs threats.
Despite that, officials said they found little evidence to suggest the threats are credible. It’s possible no real threat was actually ever made as it’s unclear if the supposed threats originated on TikTok, another social media platform, or elsewhere.
“We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok,” TikTok’s Communications team tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Still, given the uptick of school shootings in the U.S. in recent years, many school districts across the country decided to respond to the rumors. According to The Verge, some districts in California, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas shut down Friday.
“Based on law enforcement interviews, Little Falls Community Schools was specifically identified in a TikTok post related to this threat,” one school district in Minnesota said in a letter Thursday. “In conversations with local law enforcement, the origins of this threat remain unknown. Therefore, school throughout the district is canceled tomorrow, Friday, December 17.”
In Gilroy, California, one high school that closed its doors Friday said it would reschedule final exams that were expected to take place the same day to January.
According to the Associated Press, several other districts in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania stationed more police officers at their schools Friday.
Viral Misinformation or Legitimate Warnings?
As The Verge notes, “The reports of threats on TikTok may be self-perpetuating.”
For example, many of the videos online may have been created in response to initial warnings as more people hopped onto the trend. Amid school cancellations, videos have continued to sprout up — many awash with both rumors and factual information.
“I’m scared off my ass, what do I do???” one TikTok user said in a now-deleted video, according to People.
“The post is vague and not directed at a specific school, and is circulating around school districts across the country,” Chicago Public Schools said in a letter, though it did not identify any specific post. “Please do not re-share any suspicious or concerning posts on social media.”
According to Dr. Amy Klinger, the director of programs for the nonprofit Educator’s School Safety Network, “This is not 2021 phenomenon.”
Instead, she told The Today Show that her network has been tracking school shooting threats since 2013, and she noted that in recent years, they’ve become more prominent on social media.
“It’s not just somebody in a classroom of 15 people hearing someone make a threat,” she said. “It’s 15,000 people on social media, because it gets passed around and it becomes larger and larger and larger.”
Jake Paul Says He “Can’t Get Cancelled” as a Boxer
The controversial YouTuber opened up about what it has been like to go from online fame to professional boxing.
The New Yorker Profiles Jake Paul
YouTuber and boxer Jake Paul talked about his career switch, reputation, and cancel culture in a profile published Monday in The New Yorker.
While Paul rose to fame as the Internet’s troublemaker, he now spends most of his time in the ring. He told the outlet that one difference between YouTube and boxing is that his often controversial reputation lends better to his new career.
“One thing that is great about being a fighter is, like, you can’t get cancelled,” Paul said. The profile noted that the sport often rewards and even encourages some degree of bad behavior.
“I’m not a saint,” Paul later continued. “I’m also not a bad guy, but I can very easily play the role.”
Paul also said the other difference between his time online and his time in boxing is the level of work. While he says he trains hard, he confessed that there was something more challenging about making regular YouTube content.
“Being an influencer was almost harder than being a boxer,” he told The New Yorker. “You wake up in the morning and you’re, like, Damn, I have to create fifteen minutes of amazing content, and I have twelve hours of sunlight.”
Jake Paul Vs. Tommy Fury
The New Yorker profile came just after it was announced over the weekend Paul will be fighting boxer Tommy Fury in an 8-round cruiserweight fight on Showtime in December.
“It’s time to kiss ur last name and ur family’s boxing legacy goodbye,” Paul tweeted. “DEC 18th I’m changing this wankers name to Tommy Fumbles and celebrating with Tom Brady.”
Both Paul and Fury are undefeated, according to ESPN. Like Paul, Fury has found fame outside of the sport. He has become a reality TV star in the U.K. after appearing on the hit show “Love Island.”
See what others are saying: (The New Yorker) (Dexerto) (ESPN)
Hackers Hit Twitch Again, This Time Replacing Backgrounds With Image of Jeff Bezos
The hack appears to be a form of trolling, though it’s possible that the infiltrators were able to uncover a security flaw while reviewing Twitch’s newly-leaked source code.
Hackers targeted Twitch for a second time this week, but rather than leaking sensitive information, the infiltrators chose to deface the platform on Friday by swapping multiple background images with a photo of former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
According to those who saw the replaced images firsthand, the hack appears to have mostly — and possibly only — affected game directory headers. Though the incident appears to be nothing more than a surface-level prank, as Amazon owns Twitch, it could potentially signal greater security flaws.
For example, it’s possible the hackers could have used leaked internal security data from earlier this week to discover a network vulnerability and sneak into the platform.
The latest jab at the platforms came after Twitch assured its users it has seen “no indication” that their login credentials were stolen during the first hack. Still, concerns have remained regarding the potential for others to now spot cracks in Twitch’s security systems.
It’s also possible the Bezos hack resulted from what’s known as “cache poisoning,” which, in this case, would refer to a more limited form of hacking that allowed the infiltrators to manipulate similar images all at once. If true, the hackers likely would not have been able to access Twitch’s back end.
The photo changes only lasted several hours before being returned to their previous conditions.
First Twitch Hack
Despite suspicions and concerns, it’s unclear whether the Bezos hack is related to the major leak of Twitch’s internal data that was posted to 4chan on Wednesday.
That leak exposed Twitch’s full source code — including its security tools — as well as data on how much Twitch has individually paid every single streamer on the platform since August 2019.
It also revealed Amazon’s at least partially developed plans for a cloud-based gaming library, codenamed Vapor, which would directly compete with the massively popular library known as Steam.
Even though Twitch has said its login credentials appear to be secure, it announced Thursday that it has reset all stream keys “out of an abundance of caution.” Users are still being urged to change their passwords and update or implement two-factor authentication if they haven’t already.