Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller is spearheading a lawsuit against the Justice Department to stop it from enforcing a federal law designed to protect free speech on the Internet.
Courthouse News Service reports that several anti-Muslim groups, lead by Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative, filed a lawsuit on July 13 in Washington, claiming that a section of the Communications Decency Act actually limits free expression online. The complaint specifically blames US Attorney General Loretta Lynch for censoring posts that criticize Muslims on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Section 320 of the statute, known as the “Good Samaritan” provision, states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Courthouse News Service says the law is intended to shield online platforms — from major online publications to personal blogs — from any legal liability for user-generated content. But AFDI thinks that Section 320 can be distorted for sinister purposes, saying that it allows social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to “engage in government-sanctioned discrimination and the suppression of free speech.”
Geller, AFDI’s co-founder and president, is a right wing political activist and commentator who the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.” According to the SPLC, Geller has spent more than a decade crusading against the religion of Islam, having won media infamy in 2009 for her opposition to the construction of an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero of the 9/11 attacks in New York.
Since then, Geller and AFDI vice president Robert Spencer have won notoriety for their anti-Muslim rhetoric. Courthouse News Service states that their group is most well-known for plastering “buses with posters that depict all Muslims as terrorists,” and for claiming all Muslims are anti-Semitic on their respective blogs, Atlas Shrugs and Jihad Watch.
AFDI’s legal complaint centers around similar anti-Muslim posts that were censored by major social media sites. According to CNS, the 25-page document includes screenshots of posts that Geller claims Facebook took down for being “hate speech,” and violating the social networking site’s “community standards.”
One of the screenshots is a meme featuring a protester holding a sign that reads, “Death to all Juice,” and the attached caption, “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s in the Qur’an.”
CNS reports that AFDI’s lawsuit even lists one of Geller conspiracy theories, namely that Saudi Prince Alaweed bin Talal purchased $300 million of Twitter stock in order for the royal to impose “sharia blasphemy strictures” over Twitter.
Geller’s and Spencer’s lawsuit doesn’t specifically target social media companies. Rather, it demands a court order preventing Attorney General Lynch from enforcing the law’s “Good Samaritan” provision.
But civil liberties lawyers and digital rights groups disagree with AFDI’s claims that Section 320 violates free speech. In a phone interview with CNS, Emma Llanso, attorney and free expression director at Center for Democracy and Technology, argued the statute, is “as important as the First Amendment to defending free speech online.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a prominent online free speech group, further agreed that Section 320 is the “most important statute in protecting online speech,” stating on its site that, “Rather than face potential liability for their users’ actions, “most sites would likely not host any user content at all or would need to protect themselves by being actively engaged in censoring what we say, what we see, and what we do online.”