Quick Links from the Past Year, Part 5 (Free Speech)


* NYT: Russia Intensifies Censorship Campaign, Pressuring Tech Giants. The US government should more aggressively condemn “landing laws” as a violation of free speech?

* Wired: Russia Blocks Facebook and Twitter in a Propaganda Standoff

* Bloomberg: Russia Steps Up Pressure on Google, Meta With Record Fines:

Russia has stepped up its confrontation with foreign social media and internet companies this year in what the government calls a campaign to uphold its digital sovereignty. Regulators have levied fines and slowed content in a bid to force companies including Google and Twitter Inc. to delete posts encouraging unauthorized protests and other material deemed illegal.

The government is also pushing tech companies to comply with its increasingly strict laws on localizing data storage. This year, Google and Apple Inc. removed a protest-voting app from their Russian stores during parliamentary elections after the authorities threatened to imprison their local staff.

* Slate: Putin Is Ramping Up His War on Google

* Wired: Netflix Has Defied the Russian Government, for Now

* NYT: “Russia Is Censoring the Internet, With Coercion & Black Boxes.” (Pre-Ukraine invasion)


* NY Times: As Beijing Takes Control, Chinese Tech Companies Lose Jobs and Hope. Just in case you hear anyone tout how well the Chinese Internet companies appear to be doing.

* NY Times: How China Embraces Russian Propaganda and Its Version of the War

Other Foreign Countries

* NY Times: An Experiment to Stop Online Abuse Falls Short in Germany

US Laws

* Sgaggio v. Weiser, 2022 WL 252325 (D. Colo. Jan. 27, 2022): Colorado’s AG, Phil Weiser, blocked a shitposter from posting to his personal and campaign Facebook pages. The court says “Defendant Weiser’s personal account is a privately owned channel of communication and is not converted to a public channel merely because the Defendant Weiser is a public official.” Ditto with the campaign page: “Running for a public office is a private activity. The fact that Defendant Weiser was elected to the office does not change the nature of the campaign page.” As for any blocks on the official AG page, the court says the legality of such blocks wasn’t settled at the time of the block (March 2019).

* Sgaggio v. De Young, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60302 (D. Colo. March 31, 2022). Reinstating a free speech lawsuit against a police department for removing Facebook comments critical of the department. This reverses a bad magistrate report holding that the police department’s social media policy survived strict scrutiny.

* Federal Elections Commission MURs 7821, 7827, 7868

Twitter has credibly explained that it acted with a commercial motivation in response to the New York Post articles rather than with an electoral purpose. With respect to its actions concerning Trump’s tweets, there is no evidence that Twitter coordinated its actions with the Biden Committee, and as such, the actions did not constitute contributions. Finally, the remaining allegations that Twitter limited the visibility of Republican users, suppressed distribution of an interview, and limited coverage of election lawsuits are vague, speculative, and unsupported by the available information. Therefore, the Commission finds no reason to believe that Twitter violated 52 U.S.C. § 30118(a) and 11 C.F.R. § 114.2(b) by making prohibited in-kind corporate contributions; finds no reason to believe that Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, and Brandon Borrman, Twitter’s Vice President, Global Communications, violated 52 U.S.C. § 30118(a) and 11 C.F.R. § 114.2(e) by consenting to prohibited corporate contributions; and finds no reason to believe that the Biden Committee knowingly accepted or received and failed to report such contributions in violation of 52 U.S.C. §§ 30104(b)(3)(A), 30118(a) and 11 C.F.R. §§ 104.3(a), 114.2(d)

MURs 7812, 7825, & 7869:

Facebook’s conduct does not appear to constitute a contribution under the Act because Facebook has credibly explained that it has a commercial, rather than electoral, motivation underlying the fact-checking program and related activities at issue in these Complaints. Moreover, there is no basis to reasonably conclude that Facebook or AFP coordinated with the Biden Committee. Further, the fact10 checking articles at issue do not satisfy the meaning of independent expenditure because they do not expressly advocate for the election or defeat of any candidate. Finally, AFP’s activities appear to have been done for journalistic purposes rather than for the purpose of influencing an election; in any event, these activities appear to be excluded from the definition of contribution under the Act’s media exemption.

* Bullard v. Dorsey (N.D. Ala. March 16, 2022): “Plaintiff’s constitutional claims fail because Defendants are private actors and the Constitution only constrains actions by government actors.”

* Novak v. City of Parma, 2022 WL 1278981 (6th Cir. April 29, 2022). The plaintiff created a Facebook page parodying the local police department, though some constituents were confused about its legitimacy. The police arrested and prosecuted him, but a jury did not convict. The court dismisses his lawsuits over the prosecution, finding the police had qualified immunity because they had probable cause for their actions.

* A deputy prison warden can be fired for posting #MAGA memes to Facebook that “demeaned or even dehumanized a significant segment of the population.” (If you’re curious, the court opinion displays the memes at issue)

* Speech First, Inc. v. Sands, 2021 WL 4315459  (W.D. Va. Sept. 22, 2021). Public university’s “computer policy’s prohibition on ‘intimidation, harassment, and unwarranted annoyance’ is clearly vague and overbroad.”

* Goldman v. Reddington, 1:18-cv-03662-RPK-ARL (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 9, 2021). In a lawsuit over social media posts accusing the plaintiff of sexual assault, a #MeToo hashtag supported the defendant’s anti-SLAPP arguments because it signaled the posts addressed an issue of public interest.

* D’Ambly v. Exoo, 2021 WL 5083816 (D.N.J. Nov. 1, 2021). Dan D’Ambly worked at the New York Daily News until an “antifa” doxxed/outed him on Twitter as a possible white supremacist. The court dismisses Twitter from the case because none of the claims against it were properly pled.

* CA SB 331 (Silenced No More Act). The law restricts non-disclosure obligations in settlement agreements that would prevent the disclosure of workplace harassment/discrimination. It also restricts employers from banning employees from disclosing unlawful acts in the workplace.

* Jeff Kosseff, “America’s Favorite Flimsy Pretext for Limiting Free Speech” (the old “Fire in a Crowded Theater” meme)

US Services

* NYT: On Podcasts and Radio, Misleading Covid-19 Talk Goes Unchecked. “Audio industry executives appear less likely than their counterparts in social media to try to check dangerous speech.”

* Casey Newton: “Deplatforming him almost certainly prevented real harms; it was and remains the right thing to do. But in a larger sense, it’s clear that deplatforming Trump did little to improve the underlying political situation in this country. In fact, that situation is getting worse all the time….One of America’s two major political parties is undertaking a concerted effort to eliminate the role of voters in choosing their elected officials. And we’re surprised that these two sides can’t agree on how to govern Facebook?”

* Techdirt: Study Suggests Assholes Online Are Routinely Assholes Offline

* CNN: Epik is a refuge for the deplatformed far right. Here’s why its CEO insists on doing it

* CNN: This exec was central to banning Trump on Twitter. Now she’s facing thorny issues in democracies abroad

* Techdirt: Why It Makes No Sense To Call Websites ‘Common Carriers’

* Cornell Prof. Robert Hillman reviewed my article “Content Moderation Remedies” for JOTWELL, calling it “must reading for anyone interested in governance of the Internet”