A lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia says the federal government has given Facebook, Twitter and YouTube the power to censor speech deemed to be “anti-Islam,” even if the speech is protected by the Constitution.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) on behalf of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and Jihad Watch. According to the lawsuit, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives social media sites the power to engage in government-sanctioned censorship and discriminatory business practices — free from legal challenge.
The AFLC added:
As alleged in the lawsuit, Geller and Spencer, along with the organizations they run, are often subject to censorship and discrimination by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube because of Geller’s and Spencer’s beliefs and views, which Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube consider expression that is offensive to Muslims.
Such discrimination, which is largely religion-based in that these California businesses are favoring adherents of Islam over those who are not, is prohibited in many states, but particularly in California by the state’s anti-discrimination law, which is broadly construed to prohibit all forms of discrimination. However, because of the immunity granted by the federal government, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are free to engage in their otherwise unlawful, discriminatory practices.
As set forth in the lawsuit, Section 230 of the CDA immunizes businesses such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube from civil liability for any action taken to “restrict access to or availability of material that” that they “consider to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
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“Section 230 of the CDA confers broad powers of censorship upon Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube officials, who can silence constitutionally protected speech and engage in discriminatory business practices with impunity by virtue of this power conferred by the federal government in violation of the First Amendment,” said Robert Muise, AFLC co-founder and senior counsel.
“Section 230 is a federal statute that alters the legal relations between our clients and Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, resulting in the withdrawal from our clients of legal protections against private acts. Consequently, per U.S. Supreme Court precedent, state action lies in our clients’ challenge under the First Amendment,” he added.
“Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have notoriously censored speech that they deem critical of Islam, thereby effectively enforcing blasphemy laws here in the United States with the assistance of the federal government,” said David Yerushalmi, AFLC co-founder and senior counsel.
“It has been the top agenda item of Islamic supremacists to impose such standards on the West. Its leading proponents are the Muslim Brotherhood’s network of Islamist activist groups in the West and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which co-sponsored, with support from Obama and then-Secretary of State Clinton, a U.N. resolution which called on all nations to ban speech that could promote mere hostility to Islam. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are falling in line, and we seek to stop this assault on our First Amendment freedoms,” he concluded.
The 25-page lawsuit, filed against Attorney General Loretta Lynch, can be seen here, and details just some of the ways Facebook censors speech it deems to be anti-Islamic.
“As set forth in this Complaint, by way of § 230 of the CDA, the federal government is empowering discrimination and the censorship of speech in these vast democratic forums,” the complaint says. “Section 230 permits content- and viewpoint-based censorship of speech. By its own terms, § 230 permits Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube “to restrict access to or availability of material that [they] consider to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.”
This, the complaint adds, gives Facebook and other sites a “heckler’s veto” that lets the companies censor speech protected by the Constitution.
According to the lawsuit:
In March 2016, Plaintiff Geller’s Facebook page, “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s In the Quran” (hereinafter “Islamic Jew-Hatred page”) was censored by Facebook because it was allegedly “hate speech.” However, the page ran the actual Quranic texts and teachings that called for hatred and incitement of violence against Jews.
The discriminatory way in which Facebook applies its restrictions is evidenced by the fact that Facebook allows vicious posts and pages against Israel to stand, but when Plaintiff Geller and others expose the truth behind that Islamic hatred, the speech is prohibited.
Geller discussed the lawsuit with J.D. Hayworth:
“Every day I received emails from readers and members of my various Facebook groups, asking for help after having been blocked for posting a story or comment that might offend Muslims. This is America, not Saudi Arabia. Enough. I am suing. For years I have documented the outrageous bias of Facebook’s speech policies. Notoriously one-sided, those who oppose jihad terror, support Israel and stand against the most brutal and extreme ideology on the face of the earth (sharia) have been systematically blocked and banned,” Geller said in a statement.
“And to those of you who say, ‘Forget Facebook, we’ll do without it,’ I say no. I am sick and tired of the suppression of our speech. We are unable to engage in the public square. And yes, Facebook is the public square; it’s where we connect. We have to fight for it. Shouting into the wilderness is not freedom of speech. My Facebook page has close to 300,000 followers, and combined with my pages (SIOA, SION, AFDI), the reach is another 100,000. It’s a critical connection,” she added.
This censorship — and much more — is the subject of a book written by myself and Adina Kutnicki, an investigative journalist based in Israel. That book, “Banned: How Facebook enables militant Islamic jihad,” has been endorsed by Geller and is set to be published this fall, possibly as early as August.
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