March 27, 2018 / 6:47 PM / 23 days ago

UPDATE 2-Google defeats lawsuit claiming YouTube censors conservatives

(Adds YouTube statement, details on Restricted Mode setting, paragraphs 3, 11)

By Jonathan Stempel

March 27 (Reuters) - Google has won the dismissal of a lawsuit in California accusing YouTube of censoring conservative content.

In a decision late Monday, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said a nonprofit run by conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager failed to show that YouTube infringed its free speech rights by placing age restrictions on its content.

The plaintiff, Prager University, said YouTube’s “animus” toward its “political identity and viewpoint” led it to curb access to videos, including through its “Restricted Mode” setting, on such topics as abortion, gun rights, Islam and terrorism, despite its stated promise of neutrality.

But the judge said Google and YouTube, both units of Mountain View, California-based Alphabet Inc, did not qualify as “state actors” subject to the First Amendment by creating a “public forum” for speech.

“Defendants are private entities who created their own video-sharing social media website and make decisions about whether and how to regulate content that has been uploaded on that website,” Koh wrote.

“Plaintiff has not shown that defendants have engaged in one of the very few public functions that were traditionally exclusively reserved to the state,” she added.

The San Jose, California-based judge also dismissed a claim that YouTube engaged in false advertising by implying that Prager’s videos were “inappropriate.”

Koh gave Prager a chance to amend its lawsuit, and said the case “demands an analysis” of California’s state constitution “in the age of social media and the internet.”

Peter Obstler, a lawyer for Prager, said his client will review its legal options, including a possible appeal.

In court papers, Google had acknowledged that deciding which videos to restrict “may involve difficult, subjective judgment calls,” but said it should not be liable for trying to keep YouTube “safe and enjoyable for all users.”

YouTube, in a statement, said Prager’s videos “weren’t excluded from Restricted Mode because of politics or ideology,” and Koh’s decision “vindicates important legal principles that allow us to provide different choices and settings to users.”

Google drew attention last August when it fired an engineer, James Damore, who had written an internal memo saying that biological differences led to fewer women in various technology jobs.

Damore sued Google in January, saying it was biased against white men with conservative views.

The case is Prager University v Google LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 17-06064. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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