Right-Wing Activists Lawyer Up to Fight Tech Giants

Roger Stone, Milo Yiannopoulos and Charles Johnson - Split - Getty - H 2018
By Don Arnold/WireImage (Yiannopoulos), Mark Wilson (Stone), both Getty Images; Courtesy of Peter Duke (Johnson)

Roger Stone and Milo Yiannopoulos say they are planning to file a lawsuit in February.

Conservatives who feel slighted by social media giants are lawyering up, and some are taking their cases to Washington.

On Wednesday, GOP operative Roger Stone for the second time said he was preparing a lawsuit against Twitter, and this time he said that Milo Yiannopoulos will join him. Meanwhile, a high-ranking Beltway source claims that a prominent Republican member of Congress is getting ready to call for congressional hearings into alleged discrimination against conservatives on the part of Twitter, YouTube, Google and more.

The Stone and Yiannopoulos promise of a lawsuit that's planned to be filed in February comes the same day ambush-journalist James O’Keefe released undercover video of Twitter employees claiming the platform “shadowbans” conservative tweets so that, unbeknownst to the author of the tweets, they cannot be read by his followers.

“It is time for Twitter to be regulated like a public utility or perish,” said Stone, who was banned in October after tweeting insults at CNN reporters, including Don Lemon. Twitter viewed Stone's tweets as harassment and threatening, which Stone calls “hypocrisy.”

“Verified tweeters call for my murder online every day, but Twitter doesn’t ban them,” Stone said.

The reveal of a planned lawsuit from Yiannopoulos and Stone comes three days after Charles Johnson sued Twitter for banning him for life. And it came on that same day former Google engineers James Damore and David Gudeman sued the search giant alleging a pattern of discrimination based on their politics and race.

Damore was famously fired when he wrote an essay saying there may be “biological causes” that “explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership,” and Gudeman’s lawsuit says he was derided by management for, in part, suggesting that President Donald Trump was not “a Nazi or ISIS” out to “hurt gays, women or the disabled.”

Legal analyst Paul Lopez, the managing partner and head of litigation for Tripp Scott in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, says the claim from Damore and Gudeman have merit on at least some level.

“We’ve got this environment of people claiming discrimination based on race and sex, so time will tell if that applies to white males,” Lopez said. “Companies concerned about affirmative action can go overboard, allowing the pendulum to swing too far to the other side. When they do that, they’re in danger. The law says they need to treat people even-handedly."

Three months ago, Prager University, which has posted dozens of educational videos on YouTube, sued the Google-owned platform for “restricting” 40 of its conservative-leaning lessons. The cyber-entity is run by Dennis Prager, who has been chastising YouTube on his nationally syndicated radio show. On Jan. 9, for example, he sarcastically suggested that his video explaining the causes of the Korean War was deemed “pornographic” by YouTube.

“They censor videos that are not on the left. Anyone who watches our 40 videos will know that their censorship is ideologically driven,” Prager says. He says it isn’t necessarily money Prager U is suing for, but for a change in policy.

“I want people to understand how serious this is. If we lose, it means that the greatest contemporary vehicles for an open society are closed,” he says. “The censorship is from leftists, and liberals have to decide if they are liberals or leftists. The greatest threat to liberalism comes from the left.”

Prager is making a documentary film with comedian Adam Carolla called No Safe Spaces that is about political correctness at college campuses, and he says the legal battle between Prager U and YouTube will be featured.

The argument Prager and the others are making though, amount to “viewpoint discrimination,” and it will be a tough sell, says Lopez.

“There’s merit to the claim of being discriminated against because you’re a white male, but being a conservative? That dog won’t hunt. There’s no law protecting that,” he says.

Lopez speculates the lawyers taking on these cases “are doing so to create precedent — to create new law. But I suppose it could also be about publicity.”

While it remains to be seen whether or not plaintiffs can extract anything from the internet giants via their lawsuits, they’ve clearly struck a nerve with like-minded consumers.

Johnson, for example, raised $2,000 in a few days via crowdfunding to help him pay his legal fees, and he raised $58,000 to help Damore. He also is financing his lawsuit, and possibly more to come, with millions of dollars he made in Bitcoin, having purchased the cryptocurrency circa 2010 for 50 cents per coin (they traded for $15,000 apiece on Jan. 9).

“I expect to win the argument if not the lawsuit,” Johnson says. “They’re militantly left, which is fine for a business, but then why is a baker forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding? I’m going to keep fighting these cases and the public has expressed an interest to participate.”

Johnson says he’s also headed for Washington next week, where he’ll meet with representatives from the FCC and congressmen Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Ron DeSantis.

“The social-media giants fashion themselves utilities rather than monopolies. They’ve said so. But you don’t see the electric company stifling free speech,” he says.

Google and Twitter declined to comment on lawsuits against them, but Twitter issued a statement about the O'Keefe video that reads: "The individuals depicted in this video were speaking in a personal capacity and do not represent or speak for Twitter. We deplore the deceptive and underhanded tactics by which this footage was obtained and selectively edited to fit a pre-determined narrative. Twitter is committed to enforcing our rules without bias and empowering every voice on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules."

YouTube issued the following statement: "YouTube is an open platform and, to make it a great place for users, creators, and advertisers, we provide different choices and settings. Restricted Mode is an optional feature used by a small subset of users to filter out videos that may include sensitive or mature content. Giving viewers the choice to opt in to a more restricted experience is not censorship. In fact, this is exactly the type of tool that Congress has encouraged online services to provide for parents and others interested in a more family-friendly experience online."