A federal judge on Friday gave the green light for an independent journalist’s lawsuit against Twitter to proceed — a blow to the social media giant, which had tried to get the case dismissed.
But U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed the free speech claims made by independent journalist Alex Berenson, citing Twitter’s federal protections under Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act.
Impact: The case won’t challenge Big Tech’s Section 230 shields, but it could still test Twitter’s power to banish users from the site as Elon Musk moves to take over the company following his $44 billion purchase.
Key context: Berenson, a vocal critic of the government’s pandemic response, sued Twitter after the company kicked him off the site for describing Covid vaccines as an advance therapeutic with risky side effects. The complaint got its first preliminary hearing in a San Francisco federal court on Thursday.
The decision: Alsup focused his ruling on Berenson’s allegations that the company changed the ground rules on the content Twitter would allow on its platform, despite assurances from an executive that his posts weren’t up for censorship.
“Collectively, these actions plausibly qualify as a clear and unambiguous promise that Twitter would correctly apply its COVID-19 misinformation policy and try to give advance notice if it suspended plaintiff’s account,” Alsup wrote in his decision.
He also noted that “[a]ny ambiguities in a contract like Twitter’s terms of service are interpreted against the drafter, Twitter.”
However, he deemed that Section 230’s powerful protections are broad enough to shield twitter from Berenson’s other claims — including the complaint that the company violated his First Amendment free speech rights.
“For an internet platform like Twitter, Section 230 precludes liability for removing content and preventing content from being posted that the platform finds would cause its users harm, such as misinformation regarding COVID-19,” Alsup wrote.