Published On: Thu, Jun 7th, 2018

Former revenge porn mogul Craig Brittain sues Twitter for banning him


Craig Brittain, a former revenge porn site operator and current Republican Senate candidate, has sued Twitter for banning him from the site, building on a recent legal ruling involving President Donald Trump’s Twitter account. Brittain filed his case on June 5th in Arizona’s district court, throwing a long and varied list of complaints at the company, including inflicting emotional distress as well as violating the First Amendment, federal election law, contract law, and antitrust law.

Brittain was suspended from Twitter in March after he accused Parkland shooting survivors of faking their ordeal. Claiming he was discriminated against for his controversial opinions, he’s asking the court to make Twitter restore that account, and apparently to prohibit Twitter from banning any user in the past, present, or future.

The lawsuit’s broad premise is that Twitter is a monopolistic public platform where “viewpoint-based exclusion” is unconstitutional, so it shouldn’t be allowed to ban Brittain or other conservative Twitter users. Brittain is basing this claim partly on a May ruling about Trump’s policy of blocking Twitter users who criticized him. That ruling found that Trump had established a public forum with his Twitter account, and as a government official, he could not ban users from that forum based on ideology.

Brittain has seemingly interpreted this ruling, which was explicitly about the behavior of government officials, to cover the entire Twitter platform. Twitter is generally not considered part of the government. But Brittain claims that President Barack Obama subsidized the company’s operation by being very popular on Twitter, as well as asking the site to keep running during the 2009 protests in Iran. This apparently makes Twitter “entirely a public forum.” The Periscope live streaming service also supposedly makes Twitter a broadcast station, so it’s subject to campaign law. By this logic, it also needs an FCC license to keep operating. In case it’s not clear already, none of this makes any sense.

A lot of the suit reads as self-promotion since it gives Brittain a chance to talk about his campaign. (Based on filing documents, he appears to be representing himself.) Among other things, he dubs himself “the most popular anarchist/libertarian thinker in world history” based on his former Twitter follower count, which was admittedly larger than that of Mikhail Bakunin, who died 130 years before Twitter’s launch.

But the lawsuit also condenses many common conservative complaints about alleged social media censorship. Multiple far-right figures have filed lawsuits against Twitter, including white nationalist Jared Taylor and internet writer Charles C. Johnson. Some conservatives, like educational channel Prager University, have sued other platforms as well. These cases have historically not gone well.

The social media censorship claim has also gotten play in Congress. The House of Representatives addressed the issue in a dedicated hearing, which one Democratic lawmaker characterized as “stupid and ridiculous.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has falsely claimed that only politically neutral platforms are protected from legal liability under Section 230, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested a governmental “validating system” that would enforce neutrality.

Brittain has tried to use the law as a cudgel before; in 2015, he claimed that news sites were violating copyright law by covering his revenge porn settlement with the FTC. Now, he’s making an extreme, almost absurdist version of the anti-censorship argument. Among other things, he demands Twitter be prohibited from “interfering with the access of any user” to “any of the public forums on its platform” — which, again, is supposed to mean literally all of Twitter. He also wants the court to make Twitter retroactively lift any ban on accounts that were potentially discriminated against and to define every ban on a Twitter account as discriminatory.

This almost certainly won’t be the last attempt to legally enforce “neutrality” on social media sites. And there’s a much larger push to regulate social media more generally at a time when these platforms are facing real backlash. (Even their fellow tech companies are taking shots at them.) Some of these complaints have clearly unnerved social media executives. Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but this lawsuit is probably not one of them.



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