Twitter claims in the lawsuit that Paxton has been intimidating, harassing, and targeting Twitter “in retaliation for Twitter’s exercise of its First Amendment rights.”
“The rights of free speech and of the press afforded Twitter under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution include the right to make decisions about what content to disseminate through its platform. This right specifically includes the discretion to remove or otherwise restrict access to Tweets, profiles, or other content posted to Twitter. AG Paxton may not compel Twitter to publish such content over its objection, and he may not penalize Twitter for exercising its right to exclude such content from its platform,” the suit, obtained by The Epoch Times, states.
At issue is Twitter’s moderation practices, including the decision on Jan. 8 to suspend then-President Donald Trump’s account.
Paxton, a Republican, sent civil investigative demands (CIDs) to the California-based company and other big tech businesses such as Google in January, demanding information related to their moderation policies and practices.
Paxton told The Epoch Times‘ “Crossroads” in a recent interview that the investigation is looking into what happened with Trump’s accounts on various platforms.
“Because there’s a monopoly in with these companies, they control the entire platform. They’re like a utility company that we regulate. And we say, ‘hey, you have to provide power to everybody, because you’re the only choice.’ Normally, I’d say your right private company can do what they want, and consumers have choices. Here, consumers don’t have a choice, they have no choice. And so we have to regulate that and make sure that free speech is not being controlled by a few very wealthy tech people,” he said.
In a written statement announcing the CIDs, Paxton said that “First Amendment rights and transparency must be maintained for a free online community to operate and thrive.”
“However, the seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President of the United States and several leading voices not only chills free speech, it wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies,” he added. “The public deserves the truth about how these companies moderate and possibly eliminate speech they disagree with. I am hopeful that these companies will set aside partisan politics and cooperate with these CIDs in order to get to the bottom of this contention and ensure a truly free online community consistent with the highest American ideals.”
Disclosing publicly moderation processes would undermine their effectiveness, Twitter said in the new suit. The company said it attempted to negotiate a reasonable agreement with Paxton to put limits on his demands, but he wouldn’t compromise.
“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. Now Twitter, already targeted because of its protected activity, is left with the untenable choice to turn over highly sensitive documents or else face legal sanction,” Twitter’s lawyers wrote.
The demands run afoul of the First Amendment, the company asserts.
It is asking a judge to declare Paxton’s efforts unlawful and enjoin him from initiations any action to enforce the CIDs or otherwise pursue a probe of Twitter’s internal decisions.
Paxton’s office didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.
The case is 3:21-cv-01644-TSH in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Joshua Philipp contributed to this report.