A federal judge threw out a lawsuit Monday filed by conservative nonprofit PragerU against Google, arguing that subsidiary YouTube did not violate the First Amendment by partially censoring or limiting the organization’s YouTube videos.
Presiding U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruled that, inherently serving as a privacy company, Google has no obligation to equally apply its services, or in this case, its ostensible penalties.
“Defendants do not appear to be at all like, for example, a private corporation that governs and operates all municipal functions for an entire town,” Koh wrote while referencing other cases involving the First Amendment, according to Courthouse News, “or one that has been given control over a previously public sidewalk or park, or one that has effectively been delegated the task of holding and administering public elections.”
PragerU attempted to argue that although YouTube is a private entity, Google operates it as a public forum (perhaps due to its apparent ubiquitousness), and thus liable to First Amendment oversight.
Marissa Streit, PragerU CEO, doesn’t see the ruling as a defeat — describing it as “far from an unexpected setback” — as there are other legal avenues, like higher courts.
“Already, some headlines in the media would have you believe we have lost our case outright. Quite the contrary, this is only the first step in the process and we join our legal team in its optimism for the future prospects of our lawsuit,” Streit said in a statement. “We thank the Honorable Judge Koh for her thoughtful ruling, which allows PragerU, in essence, to continue our efforts.”
PragerU filed the lawsuit in October, accusing Google (through YouTube) of restricting or “demonetizing” videos despite their general innocuousness, and apparent compliance with the platform’s rules.
Demonetization is a less alarming term for revoking sponsorship and thus ad revenue. And other restrictions come in the form of “Restricted Mode” which means that users part of a larger network — like ones operated by schools, libraries and other public institutions that voluntary turn on the feature — can not view content if deemed inappropriate by YouTube.
The criteria for types of content to be blocked under “Restricted Mode” includes drugs and alcohol, sexual situations, violence, “mature subjects,” “profane and mature language,”and “incendiary and demeaning content” — most of which are fairly vague, susceptible to subjectivity and therefore prone to unequal implementation.
“At first, we thought it might have been an algorithm or an innocent mistake causing our videos to be restricted,” Craig Strazzeri, chief marketing officer for PragerU, previously told TheDCNF weeks ago. “However, we have it in writing from Google/YouTube that after having their team manually review our restricted videos, they deemed them inappropriate for younger audiences. If you’ve seen any of our videos, they’re very educational, and are very appropriate for ‘young viewers.'” (RELATED: Are Faulty Algorithms, Not Liberal Bias, To Blame For Google’s Fact-Checking Mess?)
PragerU’s videos cover topics like “Is Gun Ownership a Right?” and “Brexit: Why Britain Left the European Union,” as well as “Is America Racist?” Guests invited to discuss such subjects include former and current professors and scholars from Stanford, Harvard, and Yale, like Alan Dershowitz, prominent athletes, but also very controversial political commentators like Dinesh D’Souza.
By demonetizing and restricting a total of 50 videos, PragerU asserts that YouTube is targeting it for its relative ideological differences, while also equating it to unlawful censorship and discrimination. (RELATED: YouTube Admits To Mistakenly Removing A Lot Of Conservative Accounts In Latest Purge)
“PragerU’s videos weren’t excluded from Restricted Mode because of politics or ideology, as we demonstrated in our filings,” a YouTube spokeswoman told TheDCNF. “PragerU’s allegations were meritless, both factually and legally, and the court’s ruling vindicates important legal principles that allow us to provide different choices and settings to users.”
TheDCNF spoke to two professors familiar with these issues in February. They said while there does, for the most part, appear to be disproportionate treatment, legal arguments appear incomplete, or even dubious or weak.
Nevertheless, PragerU plans to push ahead in the U.S. judicial system, hoping that different legal interpretations can be made.
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