'Alt-right' activist Chuck Johnson sues Twitter for banning him

The co-founder of WeSearchr accuses the social network of violating his free speech when it permanently suspended him in 2015.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
2 min read

Chuck Johnson is more convinced than ever that Twitter is picking and choosing which voices it wants to appear on the platform.

Johnson, a right-wing activist who's the force behind controversial websites WeSearchr and GotNews.com, is suing the social network, claiming it violated his right to free speech by banning him in 2015.

"There's no debate any more that Twitter is censoring right-leaning accounts and suppressing the views of those they don't like," Johnson said Tuesday after filing his suit against the San Francisco-based company a day earlier in Fresno County, California. "They claim that its users have freedom of speech, but it's fraudulent inducement."


Right-leaning activist Chuck Johnson is suing Twitter for permanently suspending him in 2015

Chuck Johnson/Peter Duke

Twitter declined to comment on the pending litigation. 

Johnson's suit is the second legal complaint this week alleging a major tech company is culturally tilted against conservative viewpoints. Ex-Google engineer James Damore filed a class-action suit Monday claiming the search giant discriminates against white men. The suit filed in Silicon Valley comes five months after Damore was fired for distributing a contentious 3,300-word memo questioning Google's diversity policies. 

The backlash against Silicon Valley is fueled by allegations Facebook, Twitter and other platforms are censoring conservative views. In 2016, far-right Canadian commentator Lauren Southern tweeted that she had been banned from Facebook for saying Facebook censors conservatives.

In November, Twitter removed the blue verification badges from two notable members of the "alt-right," a loose collection of fringe conservatives that includes white nationalists and white supremacists. A month later, Twitter removed at least 20 high-profile accounts, prompting supporters to protest the action and propel #TwitterPurge to a global trending hashtag.

Silicon Valley's perceived bias against conservatives has prompted the creation of alternative platforms such as Gab.ai and Voat, which promise unrestrained free speech, to fill the void. 

Johnson was suspended by Twitter after tweeting that he wanted to raise money for "taking out" DeRay McKesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist. Many people viewed the tweet as a call for violence against McKesson.

Johnson's lawsuit says he wasn't seeking violence but rather for an investigation that could damage McKesson's credibility.

The lawsuit calls Twitter's rules "vague and subjective" and applied inconsistently.

In his lawsuit, Johnson cites internal Twitter emails leaked to BuzzFeed in December. According to emails in the article, Johnson said he was personally banned by then-CEO Dick Costolo.

"To be very clear, I don't want to find out we unsuspended this Chuck Johnson troll later on," Costello is quoted as having written to staff. "That account is permanently suspended and nobody for no reason may reactivate it." 

First published Jan. 9, 6:02 p.m. PT.
Update, 6:49 p.m.: Updated to include background and additional examples.

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