Twitter is suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, alleging that a probe Paxton launched into its business is an act of retaliation against the platform’s choice to ban the account of former US President Donald Trump.
The suit (PDF) accuses Paxton of using his office to “intimidate, harass, and target Twitter in retaliation for Twitter’s exercise of its First Amendment rights.”
The conflict all goes back to the January 6 events at the US Capitol. At the height of the chaos, while a mob was actively storming the building, Trump took to Twitter to reiterate his false claims of electoral fraud and seemingly egg on the violence. In the following hours, Twitter deleted three tweets and suspended Trump’s account for 12 hours.
Less than a day after that 12-hour suspension expired, Trump was back on the platform, again seeming to encourage the insurrectionists. Twitter interpreted the new posts as further calls to violence, which are against the platform’s terms of service, and permanently banned Trump’s account. Twitter was far from alone: Twitch, Snapchat, and Facebook (including Instagram) also all suspended Trump “indefinitely” during the same period.
Paxton took issue with the bans. The following week, his office launched an investigation into Twitter and other tech firms. “The seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President of the United States and several leading voices not only chills free speech, it wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies,” Paxton said at the time. “The public deserves the truth about how these companies moderate and possibly eliminate speech they disagree with.”
The company, however, basically contends that Paxton’s entire position is retaliatory hogwash. “AG Paxton has long disagreed with Twitter’s content moderation decisions and made that displeasure widely known,” the company said in the filing. Paxton is indeed just one of many Republican politicians and media figures who strenuously objects to content moderation that Twitter and other platforms perform.
“Twitter sought for weeks to reach an agreement with AG Paxton that would put reasonable limits on the scope of this demand, but to no avail,” the suit reads. “Instead, AG Paxton made clear that he will use the full weight of his office, including his expansive investigatory powers, to retaliate against Twitter for having made editorial decisions with which he disagrees. Now Twitter, already targeted because of its protected activity, is left with the untenable choice to turn over highly sensitive documents or else face legal sanction.”
Twitter also faces other pressure in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott recently promoted a state Senate bill that would severely curtail the ability of social media firms to moderate content. The bill (PDF) determines that social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are “akin to common carriers” and therefore should not be allowed to “block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against” any viewpoint they find objectionable.
That bill seems incredibly likely to be challenged and probably overturned on First Amendment grounds should it become state law.