Watchdog Group Files Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit after Documents Uncover Censorship
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State of the State of California for having YouTube censor a Judicial Watch election integrity video (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Shirley Weber, in her official capacity as Secretary of State of the State of California (No. 2:22-cv-6894)).
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court Central District of California Western Division. It states that the California Office of Elections Cybersecurity (OEC), which Secretary of State Shirley Weber oversees, had YouTube label a Judicial Watch video as “misleading,” and led to the video to be removed on or about September 25, 2020. The video has not been available on YouTube since that date.
On September 22, 2020, Judicial Watch posted on its YouTube channel a video titled “**ELECTION INTEGRITY CRISIS** Dirty Voter Rolls, Ballot Harvesting & Mail-in-Voting Risks!” The 26-minute video featured Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton discussing the vote-by-mail processes, changes to states’ election procedures, ballot collection (sometimes referred to as “ballot harvesting”), and states’ failures to clean up their voter rolls, among other topics.
The complaint states that Fitton’s comments were informed by successful lawsuits brought by Judicial Watch against Los Angeles County and Weber in 2017 to compel the county and State to comply with the National Voter Registration Act’s (NVRA) voter list maintenance requirements. For instance, in June 2019, Judicial Watch was informed that Los Angeles County had sent notices to 1.6 million inactive voters on its voter rolls after a settlement agreement had been reached. Prior to the California settlement agreement, Judicial Watch estimated that national census data and voter-roll information showed that there were 3.5 million more names on various county voter rolls nationwide than there were citizens of voting age.
According to records obtained by Judicial Watch in response to a December 30, 2020, request under the California Public Records Act, on or about September 22, 2020, the OEC listed the video on its “Misinformation Tracking Sheet” or “Misinformation Tracker.”
Additional records show the Office of Elections Cybersecurity communicated with YouTube and/or Google, to have Judicial Watch’s video taken down. Specifically, on or about on September 24, 2020, OEC Social Media Coordinator Akilah Jones emailed “email@example.com” and copied four YouTube employees with the subject line, “REPORT VIDEO: **ELECTION INTEGRITY CRISIS** Dirty Voter Rolls, Ballot Harvesting & Mail-in-Voting Risks!” In the email, Jones wrote:
Hi YouTube Reporting Team,
I am reporting the following video because it misleads community members about elections or other civic processes and misrepresents the safety and security of mail-in ballots. Thank you for your time and attention on this matter.
All the best, Akilah.
At or about 11:16 a.m. (ET) on September 25, 2020, YouTube and/or Google representative Andrea Holtermann replied to Jones:
Thanks for reaching out. We will look into this and get back to you as soon as we can.
Later that same day, Judicial Watch noticed that the video had been taken down.
On September 27, 2020, YouTube and/or Google’s Holtermann confirmed to Jones that Plaintiff’s video had been removed:
Circling back on this. Thank you for raising this content to our attention, this has been removed from the platform for violating our policies. Please do not hesitate to reach out if there are any other questions or concerns you may have.
In an email from OEC Senior Public Information Officer Jenna Dresner to CalMatters reporter Freddy Brewster, Dresner detailed the interconnected relationship between OEC and YouTube and other social media companies, stating, “. . . our priority is working closely with social media companies to be proactive so when there’s a source of misinformation, we can contain it.” Dresner further explained:
We have working relationships and dedicated pathways at each social media company. When we receive a report of misinformation on a source where we don’t have a pre-existing pathway to report, we find one. . . . We worked closely and proactively with social media companies to keep misinformation from spreading, take down sources of misinformation as needed, and promote our accurate, official election information at every opportunity.
Judicial Watch establishes that the actions of Weber and the OEC violated Judicial Watch’s First Amendment rights through “[the] OEC’s monitoring of Judicial Watch’s protected speech; erroneous if not knowingly false assessment that Judicial Watch’s speech was misleading” or otherwise subject to CA law.
“Neither states nor the federal government should be allowed to collude with Big Tech to censor speech,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “We now have evidence of the State of California and the Biden administration actively engaging with social media companies to censor speech that doesn’t conform to their agenda or advance their narrative. This goes against the very principles this country was founded upon and must end.”
Earlier this year, YouTube censored another Judicial Watch video that addressed Biden corruption and election integrity issues in the 2020 election. Once again labeling it as “misinformation.” Judicial Watch’s account was also suspended for seven days.