(CN) – YouTube did not censor videos with conservative views, a federal judge in California ruled in a First Amendment lawsuit against Google.
Prager University, a group run by conservative talk show host Dennis Prager, sued Google for discrimination last October. Google is the owner of YouTube and is mentioned as the same company in the lawsuit.
Despite the name, Prager University is not an official learning institution, but a site hosting videos on current events and topics like gender equality, abortion and Islam from a conservative perspective.
PragerU claims YouTube, which is owned by Google, arbitrarily uses its “restricted mode” and demonetizes videos with conservative content “as a political gag mechanism.”
“[D]espite the existence of purported guidelines and criteria utilized by both the algorithm and review teams, Google/YouTube’s censoring criteria are intentionally vague, undefined, and broad and are designed to allow it to exercise unfettered, unilateral, unbridled, and purely subjective discretion as to what is and is not appropriate,” the complaint says.
“In so doing, Google/YouTube are censoring PragerU’s videos not based on any objective finding of inappropriate material, but on their purely subjective perception of what they deems (sic) politically correct and incorrect.”
YouTube users make money from advertising, and PragerU is just one of many who claim their videos have been “demonetized” in a way that discriminates against conservative views.
The lawsuit lays out examples of videos dealing with the same content that were restricted or not restricted.
One of PragerU’s videos was called “Are 1 in 5 women in college raped?” and was restricted, while a news clip of author Jon Krakauer discussing his new book and the “college rape epidemic” was not, according to the complaint.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh was not convinced that YouTube violated the group’s First Amendment rights, or that the company should be considered a state actor subject to First Amendment scrutiny.
“Defendants do not appear to be at all like, for example, a private corporation that governs and operates all municipal functions for an entire town, or one that has been given control over a previously public sidewalk or park, or one that has effectively been delegated the task of holding and administering public elections,” Koh wrote, referring to other cases involving First Amendment rights and public forums.
“Instead, Defendants are private entities who created their own video-sharing social media website and make decisions about whether and how to regulate content that has been uploaded on that website.”
Koh wrote that PragerU may still be able to allege a First Amendment claim, and granted it leave to amend the complaint.
But the judge granted Google’s motion to dismiss the federal and state claims, and denied PragerU’s motion for an injunction.
A YouTube spokesperson praised the decision, saying it “vindicates important legal principles that allow us to provide different choices and settings to users.”
"PragerU’s videos weren’t excluded from Restricted Mode because of politics or ideology, as we demonstrated in our filings,” the spokesperson said.
PragerU’s attorney Peter Obstler told Reuters his client was reviewing the possibility of an appeal.
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