As the world's largest video sharing site and second most visited site in the world, YouTube holds massive power and an essential monopoly when it comes to online video distribution.
But for now, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that YouTube's suppression and censorship of videos can't be challenged on free speech grounds because the First Amendment doesn't apply to YouTube.
The Ninth Circuit made the decision when it upheld a district court ruling dismissing digital education platform PragerU's free speech lawsuit against Google/YouTube.
PragerU's lawsuit argues that YouTube's decision to place more than 100 of its videos in restricted mode and flag them as “dangerous” infringed on its free speech and that because YouTube is acting as a public forum, it must allow individuals and organizations to exercise their free speech rights.
However, in its ruling, the Ninth Circuit wrote that YouTube is a private forum and the First Amendment does not apply:
“Despite YouTube's ubiquity and its role as a public-facing platform, it remains a private forum, not a public forum subject to judicial scrutiny under the First Amendment.”
PragerU's CEO Marissa Streit pushed back against the decision and wrote “the Ninth Circuit got this one wrong”:
“As we feared, the Ninth Circuit got this one wrong, and the important issue of online censorship did not get a fair shake in court. Sadly, it appears as if even the Ninth Circuit is afraid of Goliath – Google. We're not done fighting for free speech and we will keep pushing forward.”
PragerU's CMO Craig Strazzeri was also disappointed by the Ninth Circuit's decision and added:
“Of course this ruling is disappointing, but we won't stop fighting and spreading public awareness of Big Tech's censorship of conservative ideas. YouTube continues to falsely claim that they are not politically biased, but their recent six-figure investment in the left-wing news channel The Young Turks proves otherwise.”
Despite this dismissal, PragerU is still fighting for free speech in a parallel lawsuit in California State Court while considering its next steps in this federal case.
The Ninth Circuit's decision comes just a few weeks after YouTube censored the speech of Senator Rand Paul on the Senate floor – a decision that Paul described as “chilling.”
“Now, even protected speech, such as that of a senator on the Senate floor, can be blocked from getting to the American people,” Paul said after YouTube censored the video of his speech. “This is dangerous and politically biased.”
Read the full ruling here.