On account of their medical misinformation policies, Google and YouTube removed from their platforms a number of videos depicting the views of a politician seeking the democratic party’s nomination for the 2024 presidential elections (i.e., Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.) regarding COVID-19 vaccinations and the pharmaceutical industry.
The latter filed suit against the platforms. He alleged that, since defendants’ policies were exclusively guided by local health authorities, Google and YouTube were to be considered as state actors and that in removing his videos, they had violated his right to free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution. He also filed an application for a temporary restraining order asking the district court to enjoin defendants from using their medical misinformation policies to keep such videos off their platform.
By judgment of 23 August 2023, the District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed plaintiff’s application for a temporary restraining order holding that Mr. Kennedy was not likely to succeed on the merits of the case. At the outset, the Court held that the plaintiff had failed to prove that defendants were not private entities, but state actors. “Plaintiff has not shown that the government so “insinuated itself into a position of interdependence” with Google or that it “exercised coercive power or has provided such significant encouragement” to Google that gave rise to state action”, the Court held.
In addition, the Court noted that, while there is a significant public interest in upholding First Amendment principles, there is also a strong public interest in protecting the community from an international public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, even if the plaintiff had succeeded in establishing that the defendants were state actors, his request would still have been denied because “the coronavirus still poses a health risk to certain individuals, and it would not serve the public interest to let medical misinformation proliferate on YouTube”.
Reference: Robert F. Kennedy JR v. Google et al., District Court for the Northern District of California, judgment of 23 August 2023.