California Appeals Court Says Section 230 Immunizes Twitter From Banned User's Lawsuit

from the being-shown-the-exit-is-not-a-breach-of-contract dept

Back in 2019, a California court tossed a lawsuit brought by a self-described feminist who had her Twitter account banned following some posts targeting transgender people. Meghan Murphy tweeted enlightening things like "men aren't women tho" and "how are transwomen not men?" She also "deadnamed" transsexuals, identifying them using their former gender/names, something Twitter's rules explicitly prohibit.

The court didn't care much for Murphy's proposed class action lawsuit, pointing out that Twitter is free to remove users and content for any and all reasons, even reasons it hadn't yet added to its official list of rules. (The deadname prohibition came after Murphy's account was permanently suspended.) This may seem unfair, but that's the rules people agree to when using a platform provided by others.

Beyond that, there's Section 230, which shields Twitter from exactly these kinds of lawsuits. The court pointed out Twitter's editorial decisions (i.e., the removing of her account and its content) do not remove the platform's Section 230 protections. In fact -- contrary to inexplicably popular belief -- Section 230 of the CDA expressly provides for good faith moderation efforts and does not limit them to removing only illegal or illicit content.

The court tossed the lawsuit and Murphy appealed. Murphy's second pass doesn't go any better than her first. And, again, it's Section 230 that's instrumental to this second dismissal. From the decision [PDF]:

Under section 230, interactive computer service providers have broad immunity from liability for traditional editorial functions undertaken by publishers—such as decisions whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content created by third parties. Because each of Murphy’s causes of action seek to hold Twitter liable for its editorial decisions to block content she and others created from appearing on its platform, we conclude Murphy’s suit is barred by the broad immunity conferred by the CDA.

The court notes Murphy's attempt to route around Section 230 by claiming this is about broken contracts (the numerous changes made to Twitter's Rules over the years, as well as its promise of 30-day notice prior to permanent suspension of accounts). The court also notes it's not going to entertain a bunch of not-so-clever bullshit clearly intended to keep the court from discussing Section 230 immunity.

Murphy takes issue with both the second and third prongs of the section 230 test as they relate to her claims. She contends section 230(c)(1) cannot apply in this case because the “only information at issue is Twitter’s own promises,” not “ ‘information provided by another content provider,’ ” and because she seeks to treat Twitter not as a publisher of information provided by others, but as a promisor or party to a contract.

[...]

In assessing whether a claim treats a provider as a publisher or speaker of user-generated content, however, courts focus not on the name of the cause of action, but whether the plaintiff’s claim requires the court to treat the defendant as the publisher or speaker of information created by another. (Barnes, supra, 570 F.3d at pp. 1101–1102; Cross, supra, 14 Cal.App.5th at p. 207.) This test prevents plaintiffs from avoiding the broad immunity of section 230 through the “ ‘ “creative” pleading’ of barred claims” or using “litigation strategy . . . to accomplish indirectly what Congress has clearly forbidden them to achieve directly.”

In a footnote, the court points out that it sees through Murphy's attempted workaround because, well, it's so transparent. If there was a serious breach of contract, there'd be some cognizable injury to be addressed. There's nothing of the sort in Murphy's allegations.

Although Murphy also points to the allegations that Twitter failed to give her 30 days’ notice of the changes to the Hateful Conduct Policy and that Twitter applied its new policy retroactively as breaches of clear and well-defined promises, the gravamen of each of her causes of action concerns Twitter’s editorial decisions not to publish content—as reflected by the fact that she alleges no specific injury from the alleged notice and retroactivity violations but complains instead of the harm caused by Twitter’s ban on her and others’ free speech rights.

And precedent backs the application of Section 230 to this case -- which actually deals with Twitter's removal of a user's account and content, rather than a breach of contract. Twitter made no promises it would keep users and their accounts alive unless specific things happened. Instead, it retained its right to refuse service to users, just like pretty much any other private business in the nation.

Here, Murphy’s allegations that Twitter “enforced its Hateful Conduct Policy in a discriminatory and targeted manner” against Murphy and others by removing her tweets and suspending her account amount to attacks on Twitter’s interpretation and enforcement of its own general policies rather than breach of a specific promise.

Twitter has no contractual obligation to continue to do business with Meghan Murphy. And its decision to end this relationship is immunized from legal liability by Section 230 of the CDA. Murphy's case is dismissed for the second time and Twitter will be allowed to recover its legal costs for defending itself from this bad faith lawsuit. Murphy can always try this again in federal court, but she's not going to get any further doing that. She's only going to keep blowing her own money on bad litigation.

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Filed Under: bans, california, content moderation, meghan murphy, section 230
Companies: twitter


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  • identicon
    bob, 26 Jan 2021 @ 11:11am

    no different

    If a customer poops in the lobby the customer will be banned from returning to this establishment.
    Sincerely, Management.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 26 Jan 2021 @ 11:12am

    Under section 230, interactive computer service providers have broad immunity from liability for traditional editorial functions undertaken by publishers—such as decisions whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content created by third parties. Because each of Murphy’s causes of action seek to hold Twitter liable for its editorial decisions to block content she and others created from appearing on its platform, we conclude Murphy’s suit is barred by the broad immunity conferred by the CDA.

    Every commenter who ever said “230 doesn’t protect publishers and Twitter moderating content makes them publishers” or anything similar to that can apologize for their innate wrongness in the replies to this comment.

    I’ll wait.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 26 Jan 2021 @ 11:25am

    what would happen If'

    "we conclude Murphy’s suit is barred by the broad immunity conferred by the CDA."

    Any news source, Tv/radio/sat/cable TV/newspaper/Journals/magazines and all the other sources of communication, wired and unwired, COULD be sued for OPINION or that they published Another persons OPINION?

    It wouldnt be to bad, really. Its that we wouldnt have much news of Any sort, and about 1/2 the tv Programs would be gone, The internet would be almost empty and only filled with SALE SITES(nope couldnt have those SPECIAL TOYS for adults). Religious ideals? NOT in that persons life.

    About 400 yours to get the New testament around and translated(many times, many ways) to get people to understand, BEING NICE to each other is a good thing, and LEARNING about being a HUMAN is the best thing you could ever do for yourself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 26 Jan 2021 @ 11:32am

    Such a simple and yet impossible task for some

    It's amazing how many people wouldn't have to worry about being kicked off of social media if they'd simply learned not to be assholes at some point in their lives.

    It's really not a difficult concept, if you harass other customers, whether online or off, the place you're doing it in is likely to show you the door, and the blame for that is not on the ones showing you the door it's on you for giving them reason to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 3:21pm

      Re: Such a simple and yet impossible task for some

      Being an Ahole isnt that bad, its the Way a person expresses themself.
      Politics USED to be the ability to tell someone that are going to hell, and having them look forward to the trip.

      Teaching people to look at things from ALL the angles, and perspectives ISNT easy,.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Glenn, 26 Jan 2021 @ 12:18pm

    She's correct about gender--biology over societal stereotypes. She's wrong about twitter. Of course, twitter is wrong, too; it's not hate to embrace scientific fact over SJW heterophobia. ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 26 Jan 2021 @ 1:25pm

      Ah SJW, the mating call of the wingnut.

      Boy, that heterophobia sure is a thing, not a day goes past without a gay on straight hatecrime, or someone in a seat of power coming up with a terrifying new law designed to punish people for heterosexuality. As a gay male, I am loving all the power I have, I sure don't have to deal with casual homophobia and hostility in my day to day life and I sure haven't been threatened when out with my gay and trans friends.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 26 Jan 2021 @ 2:05pm

      You strike me as the kind of person who thinks trans people should join the military only because they might die in overseas combat.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 26 Jan 2021 @ 1:17pm

    She's correct about gender--biology over societal stereotypes.

    twitter is wrong, too;

    it's not hate

    scientific fact

    SJW heterophobia

    Can't tell if Poe...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2021 @ 2:18pm

    Let's see TechDirt's take on this case

    Twitter refused to takedown CP until a federal agent contacted them on behalf of the minor and ordered them to do it. Not an algorithm, they got to the human review stage, received the minor's ID and still kept it up.

    Should prove very educational to folks on both sides of the issue to show that S230 does in fact have common sense built into it from day one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 26 Jan 2021 @ 2:35pm

      S230 does in fact have common sense built into it from day one

      Other than people who think Twitter is a public square and people who don’t know anything about 47 U.S.C. § 230, who the fuck has ever said that?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2021 @ 2:53pm

      Re: Let's see TechDirt's take on this case

      I honestly hope Twitter loses the lawsuit that's happening now because of that. Fuck Twitter.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 26 Jan 2021 @ 4:09pm

      ... N/A?

      Pretty sure anything CSAM related is a federal crime, and as 230 doesn't cover federal crimes it wouldn't apply or even be relevant.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2021 @ 11:44am

        Re: ... N/A?

        Twitter wouldn't be in this situation if they didn't tolerate the amount of bullshit they do from their moderators.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Toom1275 (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 2:29pm

          Re: Re: ... N/A?

          bullshit from their moderators.

          [Citation needed]

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2021 @ 6:05am

            Re: Re: Re: ... N/A?

            If you need a citation, and can't think of plenty of examples like their suspension of the NY Post under "hacked data" violations while allowing tons of public and private sector data dumps to be spread with the help of their platform, you're just not tall enough to ride this ride.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 9:32am

    Koby

    You know it's bad when even Koby doesn't try to defend the lawsuit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anon78787, 15 Feb 2021 @ 2:48pm

    "Murphy can always try this again in federal court ..."

    It's not generally true that you can just refile in federal (or state) court if you've lost a case in the other forum. Even if you come up with some new legal theories or claims, preclusion generally applies not just to the claims brought previously but to claims arising out of the same transaction or occurrence that could have been brought.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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