Twitter sues Texas AG for violating its free speech

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Twitter has sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for launching an investigation into its content-moderation practices, arguing it violates the company’s First Amendment rights.

The company filed a complaint in Northern California's district court this week, arguing Paxton's investigation was retaliation for its decision to ban former-President Donald Trump's tweets in January.

"AG Paxton may not compel Twitter to publish such content over its objection, and he may not penalize Twitter for exercising its right to exclude such content from its platform," the company said.

Twitter had moderated Trump's content several times, first checking a Tweet about mail-in ballots in California in May 2020 and restricting his tweets repeatedly since.

The company locked Trump's account on January 6 as he encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol, resulting in riots and rioters and police officers’ deaths. At the time, the company requested the removal of three tweets for violating its civic integrity policy. It said if Trump failed to remove the tweets or Trump continued violating its rules, Twitter would make the lock permanent.

Twitter permanently banned Donald Trump's account on January 8, after he posted more tweets the company said violated its Glorification of Violence policy. Facebook also banned Trump posts, and YouTube blocked Trump from new uploads following the Capitol riots. Amazon also discontinued hosting services for conservative social network Parler, and Apple banned the service from its app store.

Paxton launched an investigation into Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google on January 13, five days after the Twitter ban. The Twitter investigation sought documents detailing the company's internal content-moderation process.

When announcing the investigations, Paxton called out "seemingly coordinated de-platforming" of Trump that silenced those with speech and political beliefs that don’t align with Big Tech companies.

Twitter argued that disclosing its content-moderation processes would harm its editorial discretion.

"These moderation policies and procedures are functionally equivalent to the internal editorial decision-making processes of news organizations: just as newspapers and magazines carefully guard their internal deliberations about what news they see as fit to print or what op-eds they will publish, so too does Twitter guard its internal deliberations and procedures for making editorial judgments," Twitter said.

The social media giant added that Paxton's investigation had a chilling effect on its ability to make those decisions.

The company said it attempted to work with Paxton's office to narrow the investigation’s scope, pointing out the request covered documents outside the Trump decision, including policies on posts involving suicide and self-harm. The investigation also explicitly called for information on internal discussions about Parler, even though Twitter has never censored any of Parler's content on its platform.

The lawsuit calls for a restraining order against Paxton's office to stop it from taking the investigation further.

This is not the first investigation to scrutinize content-moderation policies at Twitter and other large tech companies. In December, the FTC launched a wide-ranging investigation calling for information on internal moderation processes at companies including Twitter.

Danny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury has been a print journalist specialising in technology since 1989 and a freelance writer since 1994. He has written for national publications on both sides of the Atlantic and has won awards for his investigative cybersecurity journalism work and his arts and culture writing. 

Danny writes about many different technology issues for audiences ranging from consumers through to software developers and CIOs. He also ghostwrites articles for many C-suite business executives in the technology sector and has worked as a presenter for multiple webinars and podcasts.