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Twitter sues Texas attorney general, claiming retaliation for banning Trump

The showdown between Big Tech and conservatives continues

Photo (c) alexsl - Getty Images
Twitter has filed a lawsuit against Texas attorney general (AG) Ken Paxton over an investigation into its content moderation practices. The platform claims that the AG misused his power by starting an investigation as revenge for the social media platform’s suspension of former President Donald Trump.

Paxton’s investigation began on January 13 -- six days after Twitter banned Trump from its platform -- when the AG’s office issued civil investigative demands to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Web Services, and Apple. It asked each of those companies for their policies and practices regarding content moderation. 

Scrutiny was apparently placed on the platforms’ First Amendment rights to determine if private companies have the latitude to remove public officials from their platforms as they deem appropriate. 

Paxton claimed at the time of the investigation’s launch that “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.”

A meeting of the minds went nowhere

In each case, Paxton asked the individual companies to “meet and confer … in order to discuss compliance and to address [an] attempt to resolve all issues.” Twitter took issue with that request and its implications.

“Twitter seeks to stop AG Paxton from unlawfully abusing his authority as the highest law-enforcement officer of the State of Texas to intimidate, harass, and target Twitter in retaliation for Twitter’s exercise of its First Amendment rights,” Twitter wrote.

According to Politico’s coverage of the story, Twitter claims it tried to work out an agreement with the AG to limit the scope of his office’s request, but the two parties weren’t able to pull that off.

“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,” the company said.

Twitter and Paxton have history

Paxton has tangled with Twitter before over its content moderation policies, claiming in a Fox News opinion piece in May 2020 that Twitter’s fact checkers were politically biased against Trump.

While Twitter wasn’t alone in taking action against Trump, it is the only hold-out among the group not to have reinstated the former president’s accounts. It was also the first to retaliate against Paxton’s investigation. While the company is alone in that department for the moment, Politico’s Benjamin Din says there is still some angst between the major social media companies and conservatives.

“The court filing is the latest development in an ongoing battle between social media companies and those on the right, who have viewed attempts to fact-check content and de-platform conservative accounts as indicative of a societal cancel culture intent on silencing Republican voices,” Din said.

“Conservatives latched on to accusations against Big Tech as a rallying cry in the aftermath of the [January 6 Capitol Hill] riots, with some predicting that it could be a key GOP issue for the midterm elections and in 2024. The anti-Silicon Valley sentiment is now a defining theme of the Republican Party, which has in recent years hauled in CEOs for hearings. Last fall, Trump appointees filed two major antitrust suits against Google and Facebook.”

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