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Conservative Videos Weren't Censored by YouTube, Judge Rules

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on March 29, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There's a reason freedom of speech is in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- it's pretty central to the essence of being American. So, if that freedom starts to erode, you can bet we're going to hear about it. One group feels that their First Amendment rights have been violated in the form of online censorship. Conservative Prager University sued Google for discrimination regarding their YouTube videos. However, the judge disagrees with those claims.

Claims of Ideologically-Motivated Censorship

Prager University is an online source of right-leaning videos covering topics related to current events and "issues that are important to understanding American values." They claim that YouTube, which is owned by Google, censored PragerU by applying its "restricted mode" to certain videos which demonetized them. PragerU says that Google used this restricted mode arbitrarily as a "political gag mechanism," and they are not the first conservative group to make these claims.

Free Speech and the State Actor Doctrine

Normally, you can't sue a private company for violating your freedom of speech. The First Amendment protects citizens from the government taking actions that would abridge those rights. However, there's something called the "state actor doctrine" which says that a private individual or group must also respect these rights if they are acting on behalf of the government or as a government agent. PragerU says YouTube is a government actor because it is a public forum for speech, much like the public square of yore.

The Judge's Ruling

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruled that Google is not enough like a state actor to subject them to the confines of the First Amendment. "Plaintiff has not shown that defendants have engaged in one of the very few public functions that were traditionally exclusively reserved to the state," the judge explained. However, Judge Koh did grant the conservative group leave to amend their censorship complaint against YouTube.

It's not always obvious when your rights have been violated. That's why it's important to speak with an attorney who can help you assess whether you need to take legal action.

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