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Twitter accuses Texas attorney general of retaliation for Trump ban

The social media company sues Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after he demands that Twitter and other platforms hand over content moderation documents.

Twitter is pushing back against an investigation launched by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
James Martin/CNET

Twitter is suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, accusing the Republican of retaliating against the social media company for banning former President Donald Trump from its platform.

"Twitter seeks to stop AG Paxton from unlawfully abusing his authority as the highest law-enforcement officer of the State of Texas to intimidate, harass, and target Twitter in retaliation for Twitter's exercise of its First Amendment rights," Twitter said in a lawsuit filed Monday in US District Court.

The lawsuit underscores the heightened tensions between social networks and conservatives who've repeatedly accused the companies of intentionally suppressing conservative speech. Twitter and other social networks have denied these allegations. In January, Twitter permanently barred Trump from its site after a deadly riot on Capitol Hill, citing "the risk of further incitement of violence."

That month, Paxton also launched an investigation, demanding that Twitter, Facebook, Google and other online platforms hand over content moderation documents. The attorney general accused the companies of working together to boot Trump from their platforms and raised concerns about political bias and stifling free speech. 

As part of his demands, Paxton asked Twitter to provide several documents, including "all policies and procedures" related to content moderation and correspondence the company had with Parler, a social network popular among Republicans. Twitter, though, is a private company, so the First Amendment doesn't prohibit it from restricting speech.

Twitter said in the lawsuit that the documents Paxton wants are highly sensitive and that it tried to reach an agreement with the attorney general to place "reasonable limits" on his demand but was unsuccessful. "AG Paxton made clear that he will use the full weight of his office, including his expansive investigatory powers, to retaliate against Twitter for having made editorial decisions with which he disagrees," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit accuses Paxton of violating the First Amendment by penalizing and hindering the company's right to moderate content on its platform. Twitter is also asking the court to block Paxton's legal demand to hand over its content moderation documents.

Paxton's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other companies are still weighing how to handle Trump's social media accounts. Facebook's oversight board is reviewing whether to uphold or reverse the social network's decision to indefinitely suspend Trump from its platform.