What happens when a free speech claim meets a private property right? I’m not sure, but I’ll bet it will generate 10,000 or more tweets. After finding himself bounced out of Twitter in part for insulting former CNN colleague Don Lemon, Roger Stone told Politico that he plans to sue the social-media platform to stop its silencing of conservatives.
Er … wouldn’t a conservative recognize the private-property right?
“This is a strange way to do business and part and parcel of the systematic effort by the tech left to censor and silence conservative voices,” Stone said Sunday in an email to POLITICO.
Stone added that after communicating with “prominent telecommunication attorneys,” he has decided to bring legal action against Twitter. It’s not clear what the basis for that action would be.
Stone lashed out at CNN anchor Don Lemon and others on Friday night, seemingly responding to reports that an indictment from special prosecutor Robert Mueller was imminent in the ongoing probe into the Trump election campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.
Stone tweeted that Lemon was “dumber than dog sh–” and deserved to be mocked and punished.
The legal basis for Stone’s action isn’t clear because it has no basis. Twitter is a private-sector platform, and has the right to set conditions for its use and users and to enforce them as it sees fit. Twitter and other social-media platforms are not public utilities that have to guarantee access to all. They are not even akin to public property, on which people have the right to assemble and protest — and even those rights are conditional on behavior, if not message. It doesn’t help Stone’s case that he has a track record of rude and personal attacks on Twitter, either.
That’s not to say that Twitter hasn’t been arbitrary, capricious, and biased. Of course they have, even in enforcing the standards that got Stone booted. Twitter has used suspensions and a relatively new process of “throttling” users as a means of imposing discipline on abuse, but conservatives have long complained about a political bias in their application, with conservatives much more likely to be punished than progressives. Twitter claims that it’s reacting to complaints and “flags” from users rather than making subjective decisions, but plenty of abusive attacks from the Left’s fringe seems to carry on without much consequence.
That, however, is not “censorship.” It’s not even really a “silencing,” except on their own private platform. Censorship requires the power of the state, not a refusal to publish by private entities; otherwise, writer who ever lived could claim to be “censored” by rejection letters. Conservatives who feel muted or throttled by Twitter have the opportunity to migrate to other social-media competitors or set up their own platforms for their views, which has a nearly zero-cost basis to publish these days. If Stone is so disgusted by Twitter, why not put together some venture capital and design a new social media platform to compete with it?
Perhaps Stone can sue on the basis of theft of services to get his Twitter dues back. Of course, it’s a free service, so …