FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – An independent journalist sued Twitter on Monday for permanently banning him, supposedly over his political views.
In a lawsuit filed in Fresno County Superior Court Monday, Charles Johnson says Twitter is trying to suppress conservative viewpoints in violation of the First Amendment and its own rules.
Johnson, who has written for Breitbart, The Daily Caller, and The Wall Street Journal, currently runs a blog called GotNews and a crowdfunding website called WeSearchr.
Johnson’s lawsuit describes WeSearchr as a site that allows users to raise “bounties” for information. The Daily Caller reported last year that Twitter suspended WeSearchr’s account after it offered a bounty to identify the man who punched white supremacist Richard Spencer.
The controversial site has also helped raise money for the legal defense of Andrew Anglin, who founded the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.
Johnson claims he learned his Twitter accounts were permanently blocked in December, after Buzzfeed published internal emails from Twitter executives acknowledging they had banned him even though he hadn’t violated any of Twitter’s rules or terms of service.
“We perma suspended Chuck Johnson even though it wasn’t direct violent threats. It was just a call that the policy team made. He is finding loopholes in policy which is almost worse than the people who blatantly have violations,” wrote former Twitter vice president of operations Tina Bhatnagar.
In another email, former Twitter CEO Richard Costolo called Johnson a “troll,” and ordered employees not to reinstate Johnson’s account.
“To be very clear, I don’t want to find out we unsuspended this Chuck Johnson troll later on,” Costolo wrote. “That account is permanently suspended and nobody for no reason may reactivate it. Period.”
Johnson says Twitter has restricted his free speech and crippled his websites, which rely on traffic generated by his Twitter accounts.
“Without judicial intervention, [Johnson] will lose access to his client base on Twitter, the
traffic generated to Gotnews and Wesearchr, and his business will be devastated,” the complaint states.
“It’s really going to determine whether Twitter can leverage its promise of free speech into monopolizing the public square and use that monopoly to censor and bar speech it politically disfavors,” Johnson’s attorney Robert Barnes said in an interview Monday.
Johnson’s lawsuit compares Twitter to “the company towns of old”, calling it “a privately owned public square.”
“As the public square moved to the public sidewalk, and then the public sidewalk moved
to the company town, the First Amendment followed,” the complaint says. “Today, Twitter is the new company town, shifting the public sidewalks of cyberspace to its monopolized public square of the Twitter feed.”
Barnes said he believes Twitter’s political motivation will be revealed as the case progresses. “They have never explained in detail why they did what they did and we believe discovery will show their motivation was political and to protect friends of Twitter,” he said.
Johnson seeks an injunction to reactive his account, compensatory and punitive damages, and restitution for his financial losses.