YouTube isn’t bound by the First Amendment and is free to censor PragerU videos, a court ruled

  • In 2017 right-wing organization Prager University sued YouTube, claiming the platform had violated its First Amendment rights by flagging some of its videos as “inappropriate.”
  • A court on Wednesday ruled in YouTube’s favor, saying private companies like YouTube and its parent company Google are not bound by the First Amendment.
  • A lawyer for PragerU said the organization was “disappointed” but would continue to pursue claims that YouTube discriminates against it.
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A federal court in California has ruled that tech platforms like YouTube aren’t bound by the First Amendment when they’re deciding whether to remove offensive content.

The ruling was made during a case brought by right-wing group Prager University, which sued YouTube and its parent company Google in 2017 for flagging a number of its videos as “inappropriate.” PragerU posts videos on everything from economics to philosophy from a conservative perspective.

It argued that YouTube marking its videos as inappropriate constituted illegal censorship under the First Amendment. According to the Wall Street Journal the flagged videos included titles like “Are 1 in 5 Women Raped at College?” and “Why Isn’t Communism as Hated as Nazism?”

The judge’s ruling was not a shock, as the First Amendment applies largely to government censorship of public speech, rather than private companies. “Despite YouTube’s ubiquity and its role as a public-facing platform, it remains a private forum, not a public forum subject to judicial scrutiny under the First Amendment,” Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote about the ruling.

PragerU’s lawyer Peter Obstler told the Wall Street Journal the organization was disappointed with the judge’s ruling. “We will continue to pursue PragerU’s claims of overt discrimination on YouTube in the state court case under California’s heightened antidiscrimination, free-speech and consumer-contract law,” he said.

A spokesperson for Google asserted the company is not politically biased. “PragerU’s allegations were meritless, both factually and legally, and the court’s ruling vindicates important legal principles that allow us to provide different choices and settings to users,” they said.

Google has faced accusations from right-wing groups and politicians that it censors conservative content over the past few years. In 2018 President Trump accused Google of rigging search results against him and “suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good.” He did not provide any evidence but reiterated the claim in an interview in June 2019.