Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter and prominent critic of the United States's response to the pandemic, is going after Twitter for his suspendion.
Berenson, who rose to prominence early in the pandemic for questioning the U.S. response and has been skeptical of the effectiveness of vaccines, claimed in a lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California that his First Amendment rights were violated by the social media giant.
"Mr. Berenson also has a uniquely viable claim that Twitter acted on behalf of the federal government in censoring and barring him from to its platform," the lawsuit said.
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Berenson's lawsuit also alleged that Twitters's suspension of him violated California common carrier law and a breach of contract. The breach occurred due to Berenson claiming that a Twitter executive told him that he could post his controversial views on the platform.
Berenson said comments made by President Joe Biden in July 2021 about social media companies "killing people" by not censoring COVID-19 misinformation directly led to the first suspension of his Twitter account, with other government officials directing the company to censor him. Since Twitter carried out the government's orders, the complaint said, it helped violate rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
"Despite the controversy around his statements, a senior Twitter executive repeatedly assured Mr. Berenson that the company backed his right to free expression and that he would continue to enjoy access to the platform," Berenson's lawyers said.
Berenson's lawyers also attempted to differentiate his lawsuit from other lawsuits against Twitter by citing a California law from 1872 that regulated common carriers as any company that "offers to the public to carry persons, property or messages."
"Courts have repeatedly applied the 1872 law to telephone companies and other technologies that did not exist at the time it was enacted," Berenson's lawyers argued, claiming that it applies to Twitter because "carrying messages for the public is, of course, the very core of Twitter's business." The lawyers specifically argued that this common carrier law would allow Berenson to mitigate Section 230, which is regularly invoked to protect social media companies from lawsuits over suspensions or censorship.
Berenson is seeking an injunction against Twitter that would force it to reinstate his account and award him damages.
Berenson was suspended from Twitter in July 2021 over a tweet saying that vaccines don't stop the transmission of infection.
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Medical officials and journalists have criticized Berenson for making false or misleading statements about COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. One Atlantic article labeled Berenson the "Pandemic's Wrongest Man."
Conservatives have regularly attempted to sue Twitter over its decision to ban accounts on Twitter, including former President Donald Trump and James O'Keefe of Project Veritas. These lawsuits often struggle in part because of protection provided by Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act.