A federal judge in San Francisco has shut down Donald Trump’s crusade against Twitter, ruling Friday that the twice-impeached-former-president’s claims the social media giant violated his First Amendment rights were basically BS.
In a 17-page order handed down Friday, U.S. District Judge James Donato upheld the company’s decision in January 2021 to kick the former president off its service to prevent him from further inciting his supporters to violently oppose the results of the 2020 election. Twitter thus has no obligation to allow Trump back on the platform.
Last year, Trump sued Twitter after he was suspended permanently from tweeting for breaking the app’s rules against “glorification of violence” with tweets widely seen as fanning the flames just after the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot. After starting his own Twitter clone, the floundering Truth Social, Trump said in an interview that he wouldn’t return to Twitter even if the ban was lifted by incoming owner Elon Musk.
“I was disappointed by the way I was treated by Twitter,” Trump told CNBC. “I won’t be going back on Twitter.”
In tossing out Trump’s suit, which was filed along with the American Conservative Union and five individual users including anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists Naomi Wolf and Wayne Allyn Root, Donato demolished each of the ex-commander-in-chief’s arguments one by one.
“Plaintiffs’ main claim is that defendants have ‘censor[ed]’ plaintiffs’ Twitter accounts in violation of their right to free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Donato wrote in the order. “Plaintiffs are not starting from a position of strength.”
Put simply, the First Amendment “applies only to governmental abridgements of speech, and not to alleged abridgements by private companies,” the order explains, noting that Twitter “is a private company.” An amended complaint filed by Trump “merely offers a grab-bag of allegations to the effect that some Democratic members of Congress wanted Mr. Trump, and ‘the views he espoused,’ to be banned from Twitter,” the order continues, “because such ‘content and views’ were ‘contrary to those legislators’ preferred points of view.’”
But even if some legislators, such as Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) spoke out against Trump’s crude and potentially dangerous online behavior, and then-Sen. Kamala Harris called for Twitter to suspend Trump’s account, Donato pointed out that public officials are “perfectly free to express opinions without being deemed the official voice of ‘the State.’ Government in our republic of elected representatives would be impossible otherwise.”
Donato ruled that Trump’s position fell “short of the mark,” even giving him “every benefit of the doubt.” Further, Donato wrote, the case citations cited by Trump’s lawyers managed to undercut their own arguments.
In his initial complaint, Trump also claimed that Section 230, a law that protects online platforms such as Twitter from being sued over content posted by users, is unconstitutional. As president, Trump launched an all-out assault on Section 230 in an attempt to counter Twitter’s supposed “left-wing bias.” Trump’s account had nearly 90 million followers prior to the ban.
“Trump’s attacks on Section 230 follow a familiar pattern: they always seem to follow a perceived slight by social media companies,” the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation said in December 2020.
In his lawsuit, Trump claimed to have “examples of Democrat legislators threatening new regulations, antitrust breakup, and removal of Section 230 immunity for Defendants and other social media platforms if Twitter did not censor views and content with which these Members of Congress disagreed.” However, Donato wrote on Friday, “The actual quotes do not live up to that billing.”
“Plaintiffs offer only the vague and speculative allegation that ‘[u]pon information and belief, defendants would not have deplatformed the plaintiff or similarly situated putative class members but for the immunity purportedly offered by Section 230(c),’” the ruling states. “Why this might be plausible is left unsaid. The Court declines to accept such speculative and conclusory allegations as grounds for a declaratory judgment claim.”
Donato also shot down Trump’s attempt to hold Twitter responsible for allegedly violating the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. But although Trump lives in Florida, he and the others agreed long ago, “pursuant to the Twitter Terms of Service (TOS), that California law will govern all disputes that arise between Twitter and its users,” Donato wrote, adding that there “is no reasonable doubt that California has a substantial relationship to this case,” thanks to Twitter’s “principal place of business” being San Francisco.
“Although this is enough to dismiss the third claim, some additional observations are useful,” the ruling goes on. “… The TOS expressly states that Twitter may suspend or terminate an account ‘at any time for any or no reason.’ It also states that Twitter may remove or refuse to distribute any content. There is nothing cagey or misleading about these provisions, and plaintiffs’ suggestion that Twitter may have applied them inconsistently… or at the government’s behest, does not change that.”
A fourth claim, under Florida’s so-called Stop Social Media Censorship Act, was also dismissed because Trump’s Twitter account had already been shut down by the time the law came into effect in July 2021. Notwithstanding the fact that a federal judge prohibited Florida from enforcing the statute, a move the state is currently appealing, Donato wrote, “Consequently, it is unclear what plaintiffs allege to be the potential application of the statute to their case.”
Trump, who has lost dozens of lawsuits in his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss, will be permitted to refile the complaint. However, Donato said in his order, he is forbidden from adding any new claims.