A&A: Is it a First Amendment violation when Twitter Suspends My Account for “Hate Speech”

Q: I’ve had a Twitter account for at least five years. My account was suspended recently for supposed “hate” speech, and has now been permanently closed. I appealed the decision without success.

While I have written sharply worded tweets, I deny that any of them were “hate” speech, and in general believe that it’s a subjective question anyway.

I’m a frequent critic of Israel, and I think my tweets on that score were probably the real reason my account was closed, though I never got a definitive answer.

If the 1st Amendment Coalition would represent me against Twitter, I’d be immensely grateful. I’d be happy to copy you my Twitter account, but at the moment I can’t even access it.

A: Unfortunately, we cannot give specific advice through this service, and individual representation is outside the scope of services we can provide through this hotline. However, we can state that in general, First Amendment claims can only be brought when the government attempts to suppress the speech of its citizens — i.e. when there is “state action” that suppresses free speech. It is unlikely that you would have any claim against a privately owned and operated website for infringement of your First Amendment right to free speech. The Supreme Court recently recognized that online forums are now an “important place” for the “exchange of views” in Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S.Ct. 1730 (2017), but it did not apply the full protections of the First Amendment to speech on privately operated internet forums at this time.

You may want to review Twitter’s terms of service, as well as any rules or bylaws it is governing itself by, to see if the administrator’s actions against you fall within the parameter of those rules. While it is difficult to say whether you would have any judicial recourse if the administrator violated any such rules, you could, at the very least, bring them to their attention.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation. No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.

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