First Amendment

Law prof sues over New York law requiring bloggers and websites to address online hate speech

  • Print

blog on laptop

Image from Shutterstock.

A blogging law professor is a plaintiff in a lawsuit claiming that a New York law pressures bloggers and websites to remove hate speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

Eugene Volokh, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, who operates the Volokh Conspiracy legal blog, is one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Dec. 1 in federal court in New York.

“There can be no reasonable doubt New York will enforce the online hate speech law to strong-arm online services into censoring protected speech,” the lawsuit says.

The law doesn’t require websites and apps to remove hate speech, although that “may be the ultimate goal,” wrote Volokh in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal.

But the law does require social media networks and other sites that allow comments to publish a plan for responding to hateful conduct, to give readers a chance to complain about hateful conduct, and to respond directly to those who complain.

The law defines hateful conduct as the use of a social media network “to vilify, humiliate or incite violence against a group or a class of persons on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

The law applies to social media networks, defined as for-profit services providers that allow users to share content.

“This vague wording means that the law can impact virtually any revenue-generating website that allows comments or posts and is accessible to New Yorkers,” according to a press release by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a nonprofit organization that represents the plaintiffs.

In the Wall Street Journal column, Volokh said he doesn’t want to moderate content, and he doesn’t endorse the state’s definition of hate speech.

The U.S. Supreme Court has carved out several narrow categories of speech that aren’t protected by the First Amendment, but hate speech isn’t among them, Volkoh wrote in the op-ed.

“Speech is protected except in the case of fighting words, true threats, defamation or incitement, and these exceptions are applied without regard to whether the speech in question is hateful,” Volokh wrote.

The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Rumble Canada Inc., a video platform similar to YouTube, and Locals Technology Inc., a community-building platform.

The suit alleges violations of the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment and says the New York law is preempted by the federal Communications Decency Act, which protects online publishers from liability for third-party content.

Hat tip to How Appealing and Original Jurisdiction, which noted the lawsuit and Volokh’s op-ed.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.