Twitter Sues Texas AG Over His Demand for Internal Documents

Twitter claims Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton harassed, intimidated and retaliated against it after its decision to ban former President Donald Trump from the social media platform. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas in 2017. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

(CN) — Twitter claims in a lawsuit filed Monday that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is abusing his authority to intimidate and harass the social media giant in retaliation for the company’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump from the platform. 

The lawsuit, filed Monday evening in the Northern District of California, alleges that Paxton has used his authority as the state’s highest law enforcement officer to wrongfully demand scores of Twitter’s confidential documents relating to its internal moderation processes. The company says this demand was a reaction to Twitter’s decision to remove Trump’s account in the final days of his presidency following the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The 19-page complaint claims that Paxton has had his attention trained on Twitter going back to at least 2018 when the AG expressed concern that Twitter was biased against conservative users during the Trump administration. 

Twitter says these claims intensified during the 2020 presidential election, when the platform repeatedly flagged a series of Trump’s misinformative tweets regarding mail-in ballots. Following Twitter’s crackdown on Trump’s unsubstantiated election claims, Paxton wrote an opinion piece for Fox News that accused Twitter of being politically biased “fact checkers” and filed a comment with the Federal Communications Commission in which he claimed the platform had engaged in unfair online censorship. 

After reviewing Trump’s tweets leading up to and during the Jan. 6 riot, Twitter decided to suspend him from the platform, saying he had violated its “Glorification of Violence policy.” 

“During and after the riot, President Trump issued three Tweets from his Twitter account that Twitter judged had the potential to encourage violence,” the complaint states. “Twitter locked President Trump’s account for 12 hours and required that he delete the three Tweets that violated its policies. At the time, Twitter made it clear that any further violations of its policies would result in permanent suspension. “

“President Trump nonetheless continued to use Twitter to spread misinformation about the outcome of the election in the aftermath of the insurrection,” the complaint added.

On January 13 — just five days after Twitter’s Trump ban took effect — Paxton issued a civil investigative demand to Twitter, calling on the company to turn over a series of confidential documents tied to its moderation policies. 

In a press release announcing the demand, Paxton said his actions were in response to Twitter’s “discriminatory actions.”

“For years, these Big Tech companies have silenced voices in the social media sphere and shut down competing companies and platforms,” the release states. “It has only grown worse in recent months.” 

In response, Twitter said that the release of these documents would hamper its ability to successfully moderate content on the platform and would undermine its content decisions. 

Twitter says after receiving the demand it attempted to negotiate with Paxton by limiting the terms of his demand. Twitter also voluntarily handed over roughly 1,800 pages of Terms of Service documents, but Paxton was not satisfied. 

“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 complaint states. “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.” 

Twitter says this demand has directly infringed on its First Amendment rights to make choices and moderate content according to its own guidelines, adding that Paxton’s actions have made it clear his only motive is to strike back at Twitter for enforcing a moderation decision he clearly opposes. 

The social media company requests that a judge issue a restraining order preventing Paxton and his office from enforcing the demand and declare that his allegedly retaliatory actions be set aside. 

Paxton has been under indictment since a Collin County grand jury charged him in August 2015 with two felony counts of securities fraud and felony failure to register with the Texas Securities Board. He has also been accused by several staffers of abuse of office and bribery.

Representatives for Twitter and Paxton’s office could not be immediately reached for comment Monday night. 

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