Twitter Defeats Another Account Suspension Lawsuit–Al-Ahmed v Twitter

This case involves the tragic situation where two Twitter employees allegedly became operatives for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and turned over sensitive information about the government’s critics to the Saudi Arabia government. I’m going to focus solely on Twitter’s suspension of one of the critic’s account, which Twitter claims was based on his dissemination of hateful/abusive messages. Twitter defended the claim on Section 230(c)(1) grounds.

The court treats the application of Section 230(c)(1) as an obvious outcome: “Al-Ahmed’s claims against Twitter are related to the suspension of his account….removal of posts and accounts of a user is generally considered as treating the information content provider as a publisher.” (It is indeed an obvious outcome: dozens of cases have reached the same conclusion).

Al-Ahmed unsuccessfully tried numerous arguments to get around Section 230:

  • “the Ninth Circuit has been dubious of large Internet companies seeking special privileges under the CDA,” citing The court responds that Al-Ahmed’s lawsuit doesn’t deal with Twitter’s first-party content.
  • Justice Thomas’ concurrence in Malwarebytes. The court responds the concurrence wasn’t binding. Cite to King v. Facebook.
  • Section 230 was about “protecting children from exposure to pornographic and obscene material.” The court replies: “the policies underlying Section 230 are not limited to obscene materials.” Paging Jeff Kosseff.
  • Congress didn’t intend “to protect against or require the policing of private exchanges that are very much equivalent to private texts, phone calls or emails.” The court responds: “Al-Ahmed fails to cite any authority that limits protected editorial functions to material published in a public forum.” Indeed, the court cites Fields v. Twitter for the opposite proposition. The court adds: “the CDA contemplates the ability of services like Twitter to employ filtering processes.”
  • Citing and LeadClick, Section 230 doesn’t apply when the defendant contributed what made the content unlawful. This is true, but it’s irrelevant to this case. “Twitter has not participated in the development of deceptive websites or required its subscribers to give information that would induce third parties to violate laws. Twitter seeks immunity for claims only in relation to the suspension of accounts of third party speakers.”
  • Twitter lacked the requisite good faith to qualify for 230(c)(2)(A). The court responds that Twitter is invoking 230(c)(1).
  • Section 230(c)(1) doesn’t apply to the plaintiff’s own content. Cite to e-ventures v. Google. The court responds: “courts in this district and the Ninth Circuit have similarly applied Section 230(c)(1) to claims where a user’s own content was removed.” Cites to Sikhs for Justice v. Facebook, Riggs v. MySpace, Murphy v. Twitter, King v. Facebook.

The court summarizes:

Twitter’s immunity extends to all of Al-Ahmed’s suspension-based claims, but not his breach of contract claim based on Twitter’s failure to provide adequate justification for the suspension and to adequately or meaningfully address and consider his appeal from the suspension of his account. Nevertheless, this claim fails because Al-Ahmed fails to articulate any reason why a failure to provide a justification for the suspension constitutes a breach of contract. Unlike Facebook’s terms of service in King, Al-Ahmed’s Complaint does not point to, and Twitter’s TOS does not seem to include or imply a similar provision that would constitute a promise to address any suspensions and appeal them

Two reminders: the Murphy v. Twitter case unambiguously rejected the breach of contract claims, and this judge emphatically tossed the King v. Facebook lawsuit after they couldn’t marshal better arguments to support their contract breach claim.

Case citation: Al-Ahmed v. Twitter, Inc., 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91204 (N.D. Cal. May 20, 2022)