Pastor Barred Over Gay-Conversion Videos Fights Vimeo

MANHATTAN (CN) – Vimeo bans users from extolling purported gay-conversion therapy, but a pastor who identifies as a “former homosexual” told a federal judge Monday that the video-hosting website shut down his account in bad faith.

Among a library of 89 videos, James Domen and his California-based nonprofit Church United were told that they had violated Vimeo’s terms of service for five uploads that promoted “sexual orientation change efforts.”

“That’s like telling Rosa Parks to find another bus,” attorney Robert Tyler said in court Monday of the December 2018 deletion of Domen’s account.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stewart Aaron pressed Tyler to offer any facts, “not conjecture,” that Vimeo was not acting in good faith.

Tyler, a managing partner of the California firm Tyler & Bursch, responded there are still dozens of videos related to sexual-orientation change on Vimeo, and that Domen’s were removed because he identified as “former homosexual.”

Judge Aaron reserved his decision on the motion to dismiss but pondered several times whether act of content deletion were considered by Congress when it designed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which gives service providers like Vimeo from immunity from liability.

Michael Cheah, an attorney for Vimeo, said Monday that the platform makes editorial decisions to include or exclude, which make the website an “active publisher” rather than the “passive conduit” Domen’s attorneys described in filings.

Cheah argued that both the First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protect Vimeo’s rights as online platform operator to restrict what content users may upload.

In a November motion to dismiss, Cheah said it would upend more than two decades’ worth of decisions to now interpret the Communications Decency Act as not providing immunity from liabilities arising from deletion and exclusion.

The motion to dismiss also says Domen failed to state a claim.

“Plaintiffs have not provided even ‘minimal support’ for a claim of intentional discrimination based upon any protected status,” the filing states. “That Vimeo has not removed unidentified videos expressing myriad viewpoints relating to sexuality (though none relating to SOCE) says nothing about the reason why Vimeo removed plaintiffs’ videos.”

New York City-based Vimeo hosts content from more than 90 million members in more than 150 countries. SOCE videos “that promote Sexual Orientation Change Efforts” are barred under the umbrella company’s prohibition of “hateful, harassing, defamatory, and discriminatory content.” The same Terms of Service also block videos that offer seduction training or teach so-called “Pickup Artist” techniques, as well as videos that use coded or veiled “dog whistle” language to attack specific ethnic or religious minority groups.

While Vimeo has banned videos promoting conversion therapy, such content is still allowed on the dominant global video-hosting site YouTube.

Last November, Utah became the 19th state to ban the controversial therapy for children.

Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have also banned the practice for minors.

The digital rights advocacy group Electronic Foundation Frontier calls Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act “the Most Important Law Protecting Internet Speech.” 

“CDA 230 is a fundamental shield that allows Yelp to host reviews, Craigslist to host classified ads, and Facebook and Twitter to host users’ posts,” the group writes. “Without it, websites and Internet Service Providers would be more expensive, operate with less efficiency, and be motivated to censor.”

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