James O'Keefe Sues Twitter For Defamation… For Shutting Down His Account

from the this-is-not-going-to-go-well dept

You may have heard recently that James O’Keefe, the guy behind “Project Veritas” — a propaganda outlet whose brand of highly edited, surreptitiously recorded videos are often followed by actual media having to come in and debunk the misleading bits — had his Twitter account shut down recently. He immediately threatened to sue Twitter, and last week he actually did so.

The crux of the lawsuit is that because a reporter claimed that Twitter told him O’Keefe’s account was banned for “operating fake accounts,” that’s defamation. The lawsuit notes that back in February, Twitter also banned the Project Veritas account. In that case, it was because one of Project Veritas’ videos allegedly revealed “private information” which violated its rules. In that case, the private information (according to the lawsuit) was that the video showed the house number of a Facebook executive who they were trying to interview. In the lawsuit, O’Keefe’s lawyers try to make a big deal of the fact that real media organizations sometimes show where people live as well, leaving out the fact that this does not matter one tiny bit. Twitter sets the rules on its own platform, and when it’s making decisions on the rules, they often involve context (and that context may include Project Veritas’ long history).

But the key part of the lawsuit is the claim that because a Twitter spokesperson told the media that O’Keefe violated its policy against “fake accounts,” and O’Keefe claims he didn’t operate fake accounts, this is defamatory. The arguments in the case are going to make some of you laugh:

The false accusation that Mr. O?Keefe operated ?fake accounts? is particularly damaging for Mr. O?Keefe because Mr. O?Keefe is a journalist. As such, his reputation for transparency and accurate reporting is fundamental to his profession.

That is… uh… not quite what many people would call Mr. O’Keefe’s reputation.

By accusing Mr. O?Keefe of ?operating fake accounts,? Twitter was directly attacking Mr. O?Keefe?s fitness for his profession by accusing him of ?misleading others? and by effectively running a disinformation outlet akin to the much-discussed ?Russian interference?/disinformation bots that plagued the 2016 election and which inspired some political operatives to engage in similar tactics in 2017….

Indeed, Twitter?s entire ?fake accounts? policy, which it accused Mr. O?Keefe of violating by stating that he ?operat[ed] fake accounts,? stems from the Russian disinformation campaign.

Thus, by claiming Mr. O?Keefe operated ?fake accounts,? Twitter was saying Mr. O?Keefe could not be trusted as a journalist because he was ?misleading others? via disinformation in the manner the Russian government is widely accused of doing to interfere in the U.S. political process.

That all sounds nice. But if you actually read the Twitter policy in question, it’s a lot broader than O’Keefe’s lawyers make it out to be. It’s quite broad and has to do with a lot more than Russian disinfo accounts. Here’s just part of it:

You may not use Twitter?s services in a manner intended to artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behavior that manipulates or disrupts people?s experience on Twitter.

We want Twitter to be a place where people can make human connections, find reliable information, and express themselves freely and safely. To make that possible, we do not allow spam or other types of platform manipulation. We define platform manipulation as using Twitter to engage in bulk, aggressive, or deceptive activity that misleads others and/or disrupts their experience.

Platform manipulation can take many forms and our rules are intended to address a wide range of prohibited behavior, including:

  • commercially-motivated spam, that typically aims to drive traffic or attention from a conversation on Twitter to accounts, websites, products, services, or initiatives;
  • inauthentic engagements, that attempt to make accounts or content appear more popular or active than they are;
  • coordinated activity, that attempts to artificially influence conversations through the use of multiple accounts, fake accounts, automation and/or scripting; and
  • coordinated harmful activity that encourages or promotes behavior which violates the Twitter Rules.

In other words, it’s quite broad. And lots of people have been caught up in similar account bans over the past few years, including the Krassenstein brothers who became famous for their anti-Donald Trump tweets, as well as a weird (and somewhat silly) “non-partisan” political party. So, for anyone arguing that this policy is used just against “conservatives,” the evidence certainly suggests otherwise. It also does not at all suggest that anyone dinged under this policy is engaged in Russian-style disinformation campaigns.

Like so many of these lawsuits, this one appears to be more performative than serious. It’s not difficult to predict how this will end up.

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Companies: project veritas, twitter

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Typical of Right-wing grifters.

They think they have an inalienable right to disobey the rules for being on other people’s property. It’s as if they go to a McDonald’s, shit on the floor, get banned from the premises, and then sue McDonald’s for violating their first amendment rights. It would be laughable if it weren’t so pervasive.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Akshully…. The first persons deemed to be snowflakes were also called Social Justice Warriors, a term meant to mock them, thus perpetuating an entertaining cycle of repeated meltdowns. And thus it follows that since SJWs are all from the left of the dividing line, not the right, your assertion isn’t quite on target, even in today’s turmoil of "who can whine the loudest".

But you are correct in that a generic meaning of ‘snowflake’ wouldn’t care about politics, it’s all about not being able to converse with others, in public, without running home to Mommy, wailing that "the mean man stole my candy". However, do keep in mind that snowflakes are very much like a Slinky – pretty much useless, but still fun to push down the stairs.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Just an FYI: When you call someone a "snowflake", you are quoting "Fight Club", a satire written by a gay man about how male fragility causes men to destroy themselves, resent society, and become radicalized. Tyler Durden is a personification of the main character’s mental illness; his "snowflake" speech is both a mockery and an example of how fascists use dehumanizing language to garner loyalty from insecure people.

If you use "snowflake" as an insult, you are quoting a fictional domestic terrorist who blows up skyscrapers because he is insecure about how good he is in bed.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well, that’s interesting. Too bad I’ve never seen the movie…. but I can tell you with an almost-unbelievable amount of sincerity that I first heard the term while in basic training in the US Army, sometime in the 1960s. And I’d bet my Drill Instructor wasn’t the first to come up with the term.

At its core, it was a term of derision to describe quitters. In today’s society, the term has somewhat morphed, I agree, but the underlying assumption that the so-named person can’t cope with his/her surroundings, that’s still a good foundation for calling someone a snowflake.

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Akshully…. The first persons deemed to be snowflakes were also called Social Justice Warriors, a term meant to mock them

And it was projection. Always. From the very beginning.

The self-professed "tough guys" asking "Why so sensitive? Can’t you take a joke?" are always the guys who cry the loudest when someone says something insensitive about them. Like most bullies, they can dish it out but they can’t take it.

Some twenty years back, my grandma forwarded me some right-wing nonsense (it claimed to be written by Charlton Heston, but who knows if it actually was). It ranted for several pages about political correctness (which is what they called "cancel culture" back then — same old song) and then closed by saying we should boycott Time Magazine because of a then-recent cover depicting Y2K nuts as being predominantly Christian (which, of course, they were; it turns out that if you think the Rapture is coming because it’s a big round number in the Christian calendar, you’re probably a Christian; funny how that works out). I remember reading it and thinking "Wow, Chuck, you don’t even realize you’re mad because somebody said something politically incorrect about a group you belong to."

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Koby (profile) says:

Selective Enforcement

leaving out the fact that this does not matter one tiny bit. Twitter sets the rules on its own platform, and when it’s making decisions on the rules

But it’s one set of rules for conservatives, which the tech oligarchs hate, and another set of rules for everyone they like. This is precisely why section 230 should be repealed or reformed. The leftists freak out every time there’s of a legal change that would mandate equal enforcement.

The anti-conservative bias is very obvious here.

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Selective Enforcement

But it’s one set of rules for conservatives

If anything this is true in the opposite direction. We’ve reported multiple times on how Facebook put in place rules to protect conservatives and to have a different set of rules so that it’s harder to take down their content.

This is precisely why section 230 should be repealed or reformed.

You keep saying that, though you have no explanation for what you think it would do.

The leftists freak out every time there’s of a legal change that would mandate equal enforcement.

Again, "equal" enforcement which ignores actual context, would mean many, many, many more of your idiot buddies kicked offline, Koby.

The anti-conservative bias is very obvious here.

The delusional thinking is very obvious with you.

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Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re: Selective Enforcement

Again, "equal" enforcement which ignores actual context, would mean many, many, many more of your idiot buddies kicked offline, Koby.

There is no special context for investigative reporting. When leftists say "context", it almost always means that they’re attempting to engage in selective enforcement, and not actually follow their own rules. The reality is that the context is: we don’t like a certain person, so we’re just going to censor them.

If enforcement were to be applied equally, it would require numerous TV networks and reporters and celebrities to also get punted, and the collateral damage would result in big tech deciding to simply allow all political speech. I find it likely that a repeal of section 230 would result in more speech, not less.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

When leftists say "context", it almost always means that they’re attempting to engage in selective enforcement, and not actually follow their own rules.

When conservatives cry about “anti-conservative bias”…well…

Conservative: I have been censored for my conservative views
Me: Holy shit! You were censored for wanting lower taxes?
Con: LOL no…no not those views
Me: So…deregulation?
Con: Haha no not those views either
Me: Which views, exactly?
Con: Oh, you know the ones

(All credit to Twitter user @ndrew_lawrence.)

I find it likely that a repeal of section 230 would result in more speech

From whom — the marginalized, or the marginalizers? Because I can’t imagine many gay people staying on a platform that allows (or encourages!) anti-gay propaganda to flourish out of some twisted idea of “viewpoint neutrality”.

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Selective Enforcement

There is no special context for investigative reporting.

What? Yes, there very much is. Everything has context, Koby.

When leftists say "context", it almost always means that they’re attempting to engage in selective enforcement, and not actually follow their own rules.

Why do you always rush to pin false political labels on people who are schooling you Koby? I’m not a "leftist" and it just reveals that you have no actual ideas when you rush to label falsely.

And, no, when PEOPLE WITH KNOWLEGE say context, they mean context. And, again, the only evidence ever presented regarding selective enforcement are internal reports from Facebook saying they deliberately engaged in selective enforcement to HELP CONSERVATIVES.

The reality is that the context is: we don’t like a certain person, so we’re just going to censor them.

This is nonsense. Enforcement is used against people across the political spectrum. No one is exempt.

If enforcement were to be applied equally, it would require numerous TV networks and reporters and celebrities to also get punted

Lol, no.

and the collateral damage would result in big tech deciding to simply allow all political speech.

OMG, Koby, you can’t honestly be this dumb.

I find it likely that a repeal of section 230 would result in more speech, not less.

By adding legal liability for the dangerous nonsense you and your friends insist on spewing? You think that would lead to MORE speech? By increasing liability? Are you for real?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Selective Enforcement

"When leftists say "context""

They mean context. Not that everyone demanding you back up your own claims is a "leftist", but your refusal to provide actual examples of people who have been poorly treated is always notable.

"If enforcement were to be applied equally, it would require numerous TV networks and reporters and celebrities to also get punted"

Yes, Fox, OANN, Tucker, Alex Jones, a whole lot of them, along with whatever "left wing" people you imagine… That wouldn’t affect my news intake at all. You?

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Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re: Selective Enforcement

I find it likely that a repeal of section 230 would result in more speech, not less.

Explain your reasoning here. You have said this multiple times but you have never presented a cogent argument for WHY it would result in more speech.

Remember, you have to logically explain why sites would allow more speech while accepting greater costs and 3rd party liabilities. Or are your argument perhaps faith-based and not rooted in any kind of logical reasoning?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Selective Enforcement

"You have said this multiple times but you have never presented a cogent argument for WHY it would result in more speech."

Because he’s both stupid and lying.

He’s claiming that all speech is equal and that the paradise he imagines involved people happily shouting over each other to make a point, hence more speech.

In reality, him and his Klan buddies would just put a lot of people off participating at all, and we end up with cesspool of his type whining that the audience who willingly associate with them on Facebook is no larger than the group who willingly associate with them on Stormfront.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

“Anti-conservative bias” in social media moderation is a myth. To claim it as a fact, one must prove two notions are true:

  1. Punishment of conservatives happens only because of their political beliefs.
  2. That punishment follows a pattern of unequal, politically motivated actions that exclusively target “right-wingers” but leave “left-wingers” alone.

I wish you the best of luck in proving that, Koby. You will need it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"“Anti-conservative bias” in social media moderation is a myth"

It’s not even just a myth, there’s quite reasonably trustworthy evidence that Facebook and Twitter deliberately biased stories on the right because they were ore profitable.

"That punishment follows a pattern of unequal, politically motivated actions that exclusively target “right-wingers” but leave “left-wingers” alone."

This should be easy to prove, since the "left wingers" will still be on social media posting the things that the "right wingers" got banned for. Yet, we never see the evidence.

christenson says:

Re: Selective Enforcement

Kobe, I have some bad news for you:

Twitter as a corporation, especially since Citizen’s united, can kick anyone they want off of their platform for any reason or no reason, with no legal consequences. Just like you can kick me off your own personal website because my last name begins with a ‘C’. We have a funny name for that, it’s called the First Amendment.

If you don’t like it, well, Gab, Parler and others have been supplying competition, and you are free to support them or supply your own.


My question: Mr O’Keefe protests an awful lot about Russian connections…are we sure he isn’t getting Russian support?

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Citizen’s United had the effect of allowing corporate entities to spend all the money they care to on political speech…basically extending to corporations the first amendment in practice.

Now, for a first amendment demo, let’s have Mike Masnick/Techdirt edit this here post, not because I am inviting it, but just because it’s their website and they can do it, legally. (And I do understand why they don’t usually do that)

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Quoting Wikipedia:

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States concerning campaign finance. It was argued in 2009 and decided in 2010. The Court held that the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political communications by corporations, including nonprofit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.

Whatever it’s unintended consequences and complications, that looks to me like a corporation can pour all the resources it cares to into political communications — i.e. first-amendment core speech.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6

Citizens United makes it clear (if it wasn’t already)

It was:

The Supreme Court’s first decision protecting individuals’ free expression rights came in 1931. Its first decision protecting a corporation’s free expression rights came just five years later, in 1936. That decision involved a newspaper corporation; but the Court’s first decision protecting a nonmedia business corporation’s free expression rights came five years after that, in 1941. From the 1950s onwards, many Court decisions protected for-profit corporations. Indeed, the very first American court decision striking down a state statute on free speech grounds took place in 1894, and it protected the rights of a corporation.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Wikipedia is not exactly the best source of legal analysis.

Citizens United struck down a single bit of a law, regarding the timing in which companies could fund one single type of electioneering. Companies already had free speech rights and nothing in CU changed that analysis at all.

I know that CU is a kind of talisman, but nearly everyone gets it wrong. It’s actually a good 1st Amendment decision. There are plenty of problems with campaign finance, but CU isn’t it.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Selective Enforcement

The top-performing link posts by U.S. Facebook pages in the last 24 hours are from: (27 April 20201)

  1. Ben Shapiro
  2. Dan Bongino
  3. Ben Shapiro
  4. Legion M
  5. Ben Shapiro
  6. allkpop
  7. Ben Shapiro
  8. Ben Shapiro
  9. Franklin Graham
  10. Ben Shapiro

https://twitter.com/FacebooksTop10/status/1387053948989710342?s=20

Tell me again Koby, how there is an anti-conservative bias on social media?

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Selective Enforcement

The Ben Shapiro who got totally destroyed by the most right-wing BBC political commentator after he accused him of being left wing and only in it for the ratings (which is impossible on the BBC’s business model), then ran away? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRF3r3zUGqk

That is slightly depressing, but proof that childish idiots aren’t completely banned from social media so long as they keep their racism and homophobia in check

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Bloof (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Selective Enforcement

That right there is why most rightwing talking heads steadfastly refuse to debate their peers on the left and go after college students with no media training. You can’t get wins against opponents who’ve done their research and have come equipped to deal with gish gallops and adhominem attacks, you can only get exposed.

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Bloof (profile) says:

Re: Re: Selective Enforcement

Koby wants that to be the case across all social media sites and Youtube. He will whine and whine and whine until every major platform has a Joel Kaplan behind the scenes kneecapping left wing content and any attempt to reign in promotion of right wing conspiracy theories.

Conservatives don’t like Koby don’t want fairness, fairness gets them moderated and held to the same standards as the rest of society, what they want is special treatment leading to dominance, turning the internet into a replacement for AM Talk Radio.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Selective Enforcement

Hey, as soon as I saw the name of the serial liar and obvious con artist James O’Keefe, I knew you’d be here defending him.

"But it’s one set of rules for conservatives, which the tech oligarchs hate, and another set of rules for everyone they like"

Do you feel embarrassed saying this in defence of a guy who has been known to accidentally expose how Facebook employees have been moderating in favour of right-wing shitposters, or do you just not have any shame?

"The anti-conservative bias is very obvious here."

As always, provide an example of where this happened that’s not a well-known right.wing shitposter getting banned for racist/homophobic content that would be banned no matter his political leanings, and we can talk. But, you have to provide the evidence first.

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sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In the days of 2015 & 2016, all we heard was "but what about Hilary, yadda yadda", which gave a massive rise in popularity to "the What-About effect". But more correctly, this is also known as "The Red Herring effect", defined as an attempt to distract from logical reasoning, with the eventual goal of completely derailing the original intent of the conversation.

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Anonymous Coward says:

O’keefe has employed fake people, when one of his spies making up an entire false persona to try to poison the well with being the one and only false accuser of pedophile Roy Moore, in a failed plot to discredit the Washington Post’s actually-accurate and transparent reporting. So him operating fake accounts is hardly unbelievable.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/a-woman-approached-the-post-with-dramatic–and-false–tale-about-roy-moore-sje-appears-to-be-part-of-undercover-sting-operation/2017/11/27/0c2e335a-cfb6-11e7-9d3a-bcbe2af58c3a_story.html

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

From that article:

James O’Keefe, the Project Veritas founder who was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2010 for using a fake identity to enter a federal building during a previous sting, declined to answer questions about the woman outside the organization’s offices on Monday morning shortly after the woman walked inside.

In a March posting on its Facebook page, Project Veritas said it was seeking 12 new “undercover reporters,” though the organization’s operatives use methods that are eschewed by mainstream journalists, such as misrepresenting themselves.

The job’s listed goal: “To adopt an alias persona, gain access to an identified person of interest and persuade that person to reveal information.”

It also listed tasks that the job applicant should be able to master, including: “Learning a script,” “Preparing a background story to support your role,” “Gaining an appointment or access to the target of the investigation,” and “Operating concealed recording equipment.”

With a personal and ‘professional’ history like that I’m convinced, no way he’d do something as serious as setting up a fake twitter profile as he’s clearly much too honest for something like that.

Anonymous Coward says:

If Twitter did actually say those things – all we know is that an alleged someone allegedly told O’Keefe that’s what a purported someone at Twitter had told them – then what’s the difference between what Twitter supposedly said and what O’Keefe says all the time? Should Twitter just claim it’s a journalist, or what?

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'Telling people I broke the rules is defamation!'

Ignoring for a moment that someone involved with PV complaining about an accusation damaging their reputation is like someone standing in the middle of a building torched to the ground complaining that a lit match might cause a fire, you gotta love the overwhelming self-entitlement in arguing that a platform isn’t allowed to enforce it’s own rules and isn’t allowed to tell people when you break them.

Hey genius, if you didn’t want people to accuse you of breaking their rules then don’t break their rules.

Bluegrass Geek (profile) says:

Indeed, Twitter’s entire “fake accounts” policy, which it accused Mr. O’Keefe of violating by stating that he “operat[ed] fake accounts,” stems from the Russian disinformation campaign.

I mean, this is just bullshit on its very face. People have known about sockpuppet & meatpuppet accounts since the USENET days. That is what Twitter is talking about, and he clearly knows it. This is O’Keefe lying again.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

This isn’t going to work out. But you could have written this withou the left-wing projections.

, “ propaganda outlet whose brand of highly edited, surreptitiously recorded videos are often followed by actual media having to come in and debunk the misleading bits”.

Given that they are correct more often than not, racking up retractions consistently, claiming this reduces the power of your reporting.
PV is sort of the right-leaning version of Michael Moore style gorilla reporting.

It’s not so much as him not having a case as much as what does he expect in return? I’m not sure from the article the actual claim here. I’ll read the filing later. But if the suspension was recorded for violations of policy in general he’s out of luck.
If, however, Twitter specifically pointed out violations in recorded communications transmitted to someone outside of twitter there is room to go forward. Twitter is then on the hook to show evidence of what they communicated. If they can not he may, actually, win.

Most companies online have an at will clause. Cancel anyone at anytime for any reason. And that is just fine. But, if you give a reason you need to back it up in situations like this.
That’s why most public terminations don’t get a “reason” other than policy violations.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This isn’t going to work out. But you could have written this withou the left-wing projections.

There was no "left wing projection." I mean, that would be impossible since I’m not left wing. You will note that the sentence you quoted as your proof of my supposed left wing bias included multiple links to back it up.

Given that they are correct more often than not

"Correct more often than not" is not a ringing endorsement, for what it’s worth. Also, I’ve seen no evidence of that. I have seen plenty of evidence of them presenting stuff without important context and spun in a misleading way.

PV is sort of the right-leaning version of Michael Moore style gorilla reporting.

Okay…? So, what? I don’t think Michael Moore’s work is particularly enlightening either.

If, however, Twitter specifically pointed out violations in recorded communications transmitted to someone outside of twitter there is room to go forward.

Lol, no.

Twitter is then on the hook to show evidence of what they communicated. If they can not he may, actually, win.

That is… not how defamation law works.

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Lostinlodos (profile) says:

This isn’t going to work out. But you could have written this withou the left-wing projections.

, “ propaganda outlet whose brand of highly edited, surreptitiously recorded videos are often followed by actual media having to come in and debunk the misleading bits”.

Given that they are correct more often than not, racking up retractions consistently, claiming this reduces the power of your reporting.
PV is sort of the right-leaning version of Michael Moore style gorilla reporting.

It’s not so much as him not having a case as much as what does he expect in return? I’m not sure from the article the actual claim here. I’ll read the filing later. But if the suspension was recorded for violations of policy in general he’s out of luck.
If, however, Twitter specifically pointed out violations in recorded communications transmitted to someone outside of twitter there is room to go forward. Twitter is then on the hook to show evidence of what they communicated. If they can not he may, actually, win.

Most companies online have an at will clause. Cancel anyone at anytime for any reason. And that is just fine. But, if you give a reason you need to back it up in situations like this.
That’s why most public terminations don’t get a “reason” other than policy violations.

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