A New York law prohibiting hate speech on social media was challenged by the Volokh Conspiracy legal blog and the Peter Thiel-backed video site Rumble Inc., which claimed the measure will hurt online services and seek to silence unfavorable but constitutionally protected expression.
In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday against New York Attorney General Letitia James, the plaintiffs sought to stop the new state law from taking effect as scheduled on Saturday. They claim New York “cannot regulate disfavored online speech by compelling online service to ‘mouth support for views they find objectionable’ in hopes of deterring or eliminating hate speech.”
The law requires social-media networks to “provide and maintain a clear and easily accessible mechanism for individual users to report incidents of hateful conduct” and a “direct response to any individual reporting hateful conduct informing them of how the matter is being handled.”
The Volokh Conspiracy is run by University of California, Los Angeles, Law School Professor Eugene Volokh. Rumble is seen as a right-wing alternative to YouTube and claims to “create technologies that are immune to cancel culture.”
The New York Attorney General’s Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The new law “hangs like the Sword of Damocles over a broad swath of online services,” Volokh and Rumble claimed in their lawsuit. “There can be no reasonable doubt New York will enforce the Online Hate Speech Law to strong-arm online services into censoring protected speech.”
According to the suit, the new law could unfairly deem some comedy routines as hate speech. In one example, they said This Week Tonight host John Oliver doing a segment mocking the British monarchy could be construed as humiliating English people based on their national origin. The law also might prohibit a video of Malcolm X discussing white guilt because it could be viewed as “vilifying or humiliating White people based on their race,” they said.
“New York cannot justify such a sweeping regulation of protected speech,” Volokh and Rumble said in the suit. “The Online Hate Speech Law violates the First Amendment because it burdens the publication of speech based on its viewpoint, unconstitutionally compels speech, and is overbroad.”
The case is Volokh v James, 22-cv-10195, US District Court, Southern District of New York.
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