Federal court tosses conservatives' First Amendment suit against YouTube

By Nancy Scola

A federal court rejected a conservative nonprofit's First Amendment suit against YouTube on Thursday, ruling the Google-owned company's "braggadocio" about free speech doesn't create a legal requirement to host others' content without restrictions.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling against Prager University is a blow to some conservatives' arguments that platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are legally liable for decisions that, as they see it, silence right-of-center voices.

YouTube is not a "state actor" bound by the First Amendment, the court ruled, rejecting Prager's argument that the company "performs a public function." It cited a Supreme Court precedent on that principle just last year.

"Despite YouTube’s ubiquity and its role as a public-facing platform, it remains a private forum," the appellate court ruled.

Prager University, co-founded by conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager, publishes videos with titles like "Black Fathers Matter" and "So, You Think You're Tolerant?" It had argued that by restricting access to its videos through age limits and other means, YouTube was in legal violation of its stated commitment to act as a public forum for free expression.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court's ruling dismissing that claim, as well as one arguing YouTube had violated federal laws on deceptive advertising. "YouTube’s braggadocio about its commitment to free speech constitutes opinions," the court ruled.