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Because the First Amendment governs only governmental restrictions on speech, a plaintiff typically cannot state a cause of action against a private entity that creates its own video-sharing social media website and make decisions about whether and how to regulate content that has been uploaded on that website.
Plaintiff Prager University ("Prager") filed a lawsuit in federal district court against defendants YouTube, LLC ("YouTube") and Google LLC ("Google") for allegedly censoring some of the videos that Prager uploaded on YouTube based on Prager's conservative political identity and viewpoint. Prager alleged that the censorship violated its First Amendment rights as well as the false advertising provisions of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.S. § 1125(a)(1)(B). Prager also alleged violations of various other California state statutes and constitutional provisions. The censorship took the form of putting age restrictions on some of Prager's videos and/or excluding them from YouTube's "Restricted Mode" setting. YouTube's "Restricted Mode" setting was an optional feature to help institutions like schools as well as people who wanted to better control the content they saw on YouTube. Prager filed a motion for a preliminary injunction; defendants filed a motion to dismiss the action.
Was Prager entitled to injunctive relief?
The court denied Prager's request for a preliminary injunction and granted defendants' motion to dismiss. The court held that defendants did not violate Prager's First Amendment rights or the Lanham Act. Prager failed to show that defendants engaged in one of the "very few" public functions that were traditionally "exclusively reserved to the State." Instead, defendants were private entities who created their own video-sharing social media website and mad decisions about whether and how to regulate content that was uploaded on that website. Because the First Amendment governed only governmental restrictions on speech, Prager did not state a cause of action against defendants under the First Amendment. The court further held that Prager failed to allege sufficient facts to support a Lanham Act false advertising claim.