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Judge Rejects First Amendment Challenge To California’s Social Media Censorship Law

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A lawsuit filed on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds by Minds, the Babylon Bee, Tim Pool and National Religious Broadcasters in a bid to contest what’s known as California’s new censorship law has been dismissed by a judge.

We obtained a copy of the ruling for you here.

In explaining the August 18 decision that granted the defendant’s (California Attorney-General Robert Bonta) motion to dismiss, US District Judge Hernan D. Vera wrote that the plaintiffs did not manage to successfully allege “an actual injury or a realistic danger of a future injury.”

The contested law, AB 587, was passed last September in California and among other things mandates that social sites must report to the state by the beginning of next year, detailing terms of service, categories of content, “guidelines” they have for dealing with perceived violations, as well as data concerning those violations.

This ruling actually contradicts a similar ruling out of New York earlier this year.

There, the bill, signed by Governor Kathy Hochul, required, “social media networks to provide and maintain mechanisms for reporting hateful conduct on their platform.”

The New York court highlighted the ways in which the law violated the First Amendment, saying, “the law also requires that a social media network must make a ‘policy’ available on its website which details how the network will respond to a complaint of hateful content. In other words, the law requires that social media networks devise and implement a written policy—i.e., speech.”

But US District Judge Hernan D. Vera in California obviously doesn’t see it that way.

The terms of service that social media companies must reveal as part of the Californian law specify user behavior and what activities are permitted, as well as those they “subject to action,” the ruling dismissing the suit explained last week.

Democrats, who successfully pushed the bill, say it is a way to enforce transparency and accountability online, but opponents believe that lurking behind those proclaimed goals is actually censorship.

That’s in part because Governor Gavin Newsom, other than hailing AB 587’s transparency provisions, also spelled out that it will be used to prevent “weaponization” of social sites for spreading “hate and disinformation.”

And, Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon recalled back when the lawsuit was announced in the spring that these terms are often used in a misleading way, simply as a smokescreen for suppressing legitimate speech.

As the filing put it, “AB 587 does not have any legitimate sweep because its unconstitutional applications outweigh the limited number of applications to cases of speech which fall outside the scope of the First Amendment.”

The lawsuit expressed the plaintiffs’ fears that they might either be subjected to censorship, thanks to the enforcement of the law, or have to resort to self-censorship in order to remain online.

But now Judge Vera disagreed, writing that the allegations by the plaintiffs could be considered “conjectural or hypothetical injuries” – which does not suffice for the case to proceed.

The court found that the plaintiffs’ claim of a threat of prosecution was “adequate” – but that because they are not platforms, they are not subject to AB 587, and therefore, “cannot allege any fear of prosecution under AB 587 and cases considering such allegations do not apply.”

If you're tired of censorship and dystopian threats against civil liberties, subscribe to Reclaim The Net.

Defend free speech and individual liberty online. 

Push back against Big Tech and media gatekeepers.

Defend free speech and individual liberty online. Push back against Big Tech and media gatekeepers.

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