Several stupid lawsuits have been brought against social media companies. Some feature actual lawyers (but mostly from the same law firms) helping clients throw money away on allegations that Twitter and Facebook are at least indirectly responsible for terrorist attacks.
Others also use real lawyers, but lawyers willing to misread precedent to declare large social media platforms “public squares” and advance some very questionable arguments about First Amendment violations.
Then there’s everyone else: the kind of people who think being temporarily suspended from a platform is a billion dollar Constitutional violation. (h/t Eric Goldman)
In this lawsuit, Adrian Rangel alleges his brief suspension violated the Constitution harder than it’s ever been violated before. Rangel’s Twitter account is no longer suspended and it’s not because he emerged victorious from this lawsuit. It has already been tossed by the federal court.
Rangel’s short-lived lawsuit [PDF] asked for $1 billion in damages for his brief suspension, which he alleges violated his First Amendment right to yell “HANG THEM ALL” in a crowded platform. While we can agree Rangel’s heated response to “topics from the mundane to the comical” probably should not have resulted in a suspension, we can also agree Twitter’s moderation call did none of the following:
Plaintiff contends that by suspending Plaintiff’s account religiouserpico Defendants Twitter Foundation and Vijaya Gadde violated Adrian Rangel’s constitutional rights to ( (1) freedom of speech, (2) freedom of expression, (3) freedom of religion, (4) freedom of assembly, (5) freedom against unlawful seizure, (6) due process, (7) substantive due process and (8) equal protection of the United States Constitution.
This despite Rangel’s claim on his own Twitter feed that he is a “CONSTITUTIONALIST.”
Rangel logically points out his “HANG THEM ALL” tweet was not a threat. It targeted no one and was a hyperbolic expression of Rangel’s general exasperation with the status quo. (I’m construing his complaint liberally. Rangel doesn’t actually reference the tweet his responded to, but judging the rest of the complaint, it probably had something to do with liberal politicians.)
Now, while you might be familiar with misguided assertions that moderation by private platforms violates First Amendment rights (including freedom of assembly), you’re probably unaware that account suspensions also violate religious rights.
Before the Defendants suspended Plaintiff’s account, Plaintiff used Twitter to proclaim his religious beliefs to the public of being a Born Again King James Bible Only Christian. Plaintiff included the being Born Again King James Bible Only Christian in his Twitter profile. ln addition, Plaintiff followed and was followed by a number of people on Twitter – one group being people of like-minded religious beliefs.
Tangentially, Plaintiff contends that President Donald J Trump was nothing short of miraculously elected by God into the Presidency; most specifically because of Donald Trump’s victory in light of the tremendous media, political and social resistance to his election to the Presidency of the United States. Plaintiff used Twitter to support what Plaintiff contends is Donald J Trump’s nothing short of miraculous election to the Presidency. As such, Plaintiff’s religious beliefs are intertwined with Plaintiff’s support of Donald J Trump as President of the United States of America.
Recourse options are limited for those who feel their cult-like admiration of elected leaders has been harmed by moderation efforts. “Limited” as in “zero.” There are no options available to someone who has managed to “intertwine” their belief in God with their worship of a president.
Going from that surprising tangent, Rangel alleges the appeals process provided by Twitter doesn’t approach the standards of due process provided by the Constitution. Of course they don’t. They never will. Only the government has this obligation, much like the government’s monopoly on First Amendment rights violations. The same goes for the Equal Protection clause, which is invoked in Rangel’s lawsuit to make a perfectly valid point.
Plaintiff further contends that Defendants Twitter Foundation and Vijaya Gadde have illegally embarked upon an illegal circumvention of the United States Constitution in attempting to impose on United States citizens the legal cultures of foreign countries i.e. India, China, Russia, Germany, United Kingdom etc. Many of these foreign countries were once or still are considered third world countries because of their former or present totalitarian subjugation or colonizing regimes.
Unfortunately, valid points aren’t the same thing as cognizable claims and the court has no jurisdiction or duty to prevent Twitter from aligning moderation efforts with foreign laws. I agree with Rangel that Twitter should not be humoring authoritarian regimes by complying with removal notices and/or suspending accounts, but a billion dollar lawsuit claiming a private company violated Constitutional rights isn’t the place to make this argument.
Since there’s no moving forward with the case, there will be no discussion of Section 230 immunity, which would have seen this case dismissed if Twitter (a “California nonprofit,” according to the plaintiff) had needed to file a response. Love it or hate it, social media platforms can moderate as they please without violating Constitutional rights. Understanding this simple concept would save a lot of people time and money.