Appeals Court: No, You Can’t Just Sue Twitter Because You’re Upset They Kicked Trump Off

from the not-how-any-of-this-works dept

We’ve covered on here former President Donald Trump’s ridiculous lawsuit against Twitter for kicking him off the platform for violating its terms of service (a lawsuit that is not going well at all), but I had missed that some random person, Maria Rutenberg, had also sued Twitter for the same thing. No, not for kicking her off, but for kicking Trump off. She claimed (I am not joking) that it violated her 1st Amendment rights not to be able to respond to his tweets. I only wish I were joking. From the complaint:

This case is not about the free speech of Former President Trump – this case is about the free speech rights of Plaintiff Maria Rutenburg and millions of people around the country who have a First Amendment right to view, discuss, debate, comment, reply and respond to Former President Trump’s tweets.

As you might imagine, that case has also gone poorly. The district court quickly denied a request for a Temporary Restraining Order against Twitter (to force it to reinstate Trump), it then easily dismissed the case, pointing out that Twitter is not a state actor, and therefore could not violate her 1st Amendment rights.

In sum, Rutenburg has failed to demonstrate that Twitter is a state actor sufficient to trigger liability for an alleged deprivation of federal rights under Section 1983. Rutenburg conflates decisions finding that former President Trump’s usage of Twitter is a public forum, constraining his ability to summarily block critics, and impermissibly attempts to extend this underlying logic to Twitter. This fails where Twitter is not a state actor, and is not exercising any sovereign state authority. Rutenburg’s citations do not persuade, where such cases concern state actors, including elected state or local officials. Rutenburg otherwise fails to cite to a single case where a Court has found a private non-state actor liable under Section 1983 for alleged violations of constitutional rights in similar circumstances.

Undeterred by basic common sense, Rutenberg appealed the case to the 9th Circuit, where… it was also easily rejected because, once again (this time, with feeling), Twitter is not a state actor and cannot take away anyone’s 1st Amendment rights.

The district court properly dismissed Rutenburg’s First Amendment claim: She did not allege sufficient facts to infer that the defendants (collectively, “Twitter” or “the company”) engaged in state action when the company moderated or suspended the former President’s Twitter account. The First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause “prohibits the government—not a private party—from abridging speech.” Prager Univ. v. Google LLC, 951 F.3d 991, 996 (9th Cir. 2020) (citations omitted). Dismissal was proper because the complaint lacked “a cognizable legal theory” or “sufficient well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s]” to state a plausible claim for relief. Beckington v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 926 F.3d 595, 604 (9th Cir. 2019) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)

So, just to make it abundantly clear: we already knew that people who, themselves, have been removed from a private social media platform cannot get a court to reinstate them by claiming their 1st Amendment rights have been violated, but now we can also note, with pretty clear certainty, that you also can’t claim that a social media platform removing someone else (even someone you really, really like) violates your 1st Amendment rights.

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Comments on “Appeals Court: No, You Can’t Just Sue Twitter Because You’re Upset They Kicked Trump Off”

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David says:


Ah, but she didn’t complain about not being allowed to speak but about being unable to retweet Trump (due to him not being allowed to tweet). She wasn’t planning on expressing a thought of her own.

Actually, I don’t see why. Her legal theories seem about as sound as those of Trump. Too bad nobody is paying her $230mil to pretend waving them around (but actually mostly pocketing the money).

Arijirija says:

Re: Re: Re:2

You’re not wrong there. I was pretty non-committal during the election campaign, mostly because I don’t have a TV and don’t go often on Twitter. But then I realized that the only man who could go bankrupt running a casino was going to “run” the US, and I wondered where I had misplaced the tar and feathers.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

As though the self-entitlement wasn't bad enough already...

From ‘it’s a violation of my first amendment rights if I can’t speak on a privately owned platform of my choice’ to ‘it’s a violation of my first amendment rights if someone else can’t speak on a privately owned platform of their choice’…

It’s amazing how utterly lacking in knowledge of the first amendment it’s most strident ‘defenders’ display on a regular basis, almost as though they’ve never actually read the gorram thing and think it only applies to speech they like and only to the extent that they like it.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Lesson time for idiots

Lesson 1
Private censorship by a non-governmental agency is legal. Always has been and always will be.

Lesson 2
Forcing presence where you are not wanted is a violation of property rights. People like this are no better than the stupid liberal protestors who barge into conservative conferences.

Lesson 3
Go somewhere else. By your own definition the company has failed in it’s perceived duty to host multiple voices. Go to a superior site that allows you to speak. If what the company has done is so egregious as to prompt a lawsuits from you, why would you want to be associated with such a failure of communication?

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m not sure what your point is. Are you lumping me in with those brainwashed freaks?

I’m against all censorship. Private or public. Government or person.
I have zero respect for anyone who seeks to bar speech.

Every one of the linked protestors are crap humans that hopefully don’t breed
Then again, inbreeding is a good way to kill a gene line. Just saying.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ve never seen…

how about this

See, that’s perfectly legal and all. But it’s censorship. I refuse to draw a line because it gives people like your link power. We need to push back against all censorship and seek to use less destructive methods so that all speech is preserved but also without the general offence some people may take in any given majority. Or minority.

Here is another good example of private censorship

This is also legal. But it’s still censorship.
Edited for content is quite telling!

PaulT (profile) says:


“Go to a superior site that allows you to speak”

Well, that “superior” is subjective. Some platforms are superior because they don’t allow certain kinds of speech, bullying, harassment, etc. on their property. For a majority, the platform is superior because they don’t tolerate certain people.

“why would you want to be associated with such a failure of communication?”

Because Twitter is popular. They don’t want “free speech”, they want access to a free, large audience that they have been unable to gather through platforms that agree with them, usually for good reason. Due to their very nature, a platform that caters to the behaviours not accepted on other platforms can never reach mainstream popularity, in the same way that Arrow Video’s streaming service will never be as popular as Disney+ as they don’t cater to that type of mainstream audience.

I just think that they either can’t accept that their desired speech is by definition a more niche prospect, or they haven’t come to the realisation that they are simply a vocal minority and not a “silent majority” that’s being suppressed. Either that, or early lack of moderation gave them a taste of the reach (and profits) available to mainstream platforms, and they want to have that without the responsibility of communicating in a way acceptable to those platforms and the rest of the userbase.

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