An interesting and landmark ruling is in the process, as Twitter’s former controlling methods regarding posts come head to head with the U.S. Constitution and Elon Musk’s new Twitter philosophy regarding free speech.
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Alex Berenson is a former New York Times journalist who had been banned from Twitter. Berenson had been suspended from Twitter when he “criticizing COVID-19 vaccines as being advanced therapeutics that came with dangerous side effects,” Western Journal reported.
In December 2021, Berenson brought his lawsuit against Twitter for being permanently banned over his comments regarding the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Berenson charged that his statements were in fact true, and sought reinstatement Twitter as well as unspecified monetary damages.
“Mr. Berenson’s claim that the COVID-19 vaccines do not ‘stop infection’ or ‘transmission’ of COVID-19 was true at the time and is true now,” the lawsuit stated.
“It is undisputed that vaccinated persons can contract and spread COVID-19 … Mr. Berenson’s allegedly ban-worthy claim that the COVID-19 vaccines do not stop infection or transmission does not violate Twitter’s policy.”
On Thursday, during the case’s first preliminary hearing, a federal judge on Friday rejected Twitter’s requests to dismiss a lawsuit brought against it by Berenson, an independent journalist, novelist, and non-fiction writer.
However, while U.S. District Judge William Alsup refused to dismiss the case as a whole, he dismissed Berenson’s claims relating to free speech, pointing to the federal protections Twitter enjoys through Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, POLITICO reported.
“For an internet platform like Twitter, Section 230 precludes liability for removing content and preventing content from being posted that the platform finds would cause its users harm, such as misinformation regarding COVID-19,” Alsup wrote, according to the outlet.
According to POLITICO, Alsup, a Bill Clinton appointee, seemed to sympathize with Berenson’s accusations that Twitter’s sudden changes to its rules indicated that Twitter officials thought that they could get away with censorship “based on politics.”
Alsup’s reference to Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act is important as the act provides framework for usage of platforms. The act states:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Berenson discussed the tweets with Tucker Carlson on Fox News.
“My final tweet said it doesn’t stop infection or transmission about the vaccines,” he said. “I think everyone in the world would agree about the RNA vaccines (Moderna & Pfizer). That’s correct,” Berenson told Carlson.
“There’s this idea that somehow if we allow people free speech, there’ll be this complete breakdown,” Berenson told Tucker Carlson. “That’s nonsense. Twitter just needs to allow the kinds of speech online that are allowed offline and with the same limits.”
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exorcise there of; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The lawsuit brought by Berenson will not pose a challenge to the Section 230 protections Big Tech enjoys, POLITICO reported.
It seems that this case has potential to define use of social media, and certainly to influence platforms’ defining of user rules.
However, according to the outlet, the lawsuit might be a test of Twitter’s powers to throw users out of its platform.
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“This case raises significant questions about private power and the state of free speech in America,” the lawsuit stated.
Do our laws place any limitations on Twitter’s power to discriminate against speakers—even as it becomes the most important outlet for journalism worldwide, in part because its promises of unfettered free speech have attracted an audience of hundreds of millions of users?”
As the new owner of Twitter, Elon Musk has stated that his plans for the media platform include the fact that he is “against censorship that goes far beyond the law,” and that he favors “timeouts” rather than permanent bans for users who break the rules.
In a statement in April 2021, Musk said, “Free speech is the bedrock in a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
Even Judge Alsup recognizes that the new owner of Twitter is about to change the rules of the media platform.
Alsup stated to Twitter’s current lawyers during proceedings ,”Your company has been taken over by a new owner, and your new owner may disagree with your position. And I don’t want to spin my wheels and do a lot of work for nothing. So when is your new owner going to decide whether to continue with this lawsuit?”