WASHINGTON – Twitter, Reddit, and Internet Association filed an amicus brief late yesterday in support of a lawsuit filed last year by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP on behalf of plaintiffs Doc Society and International Documentary Association, challenging rules that require nearly all visa applicants to register their social media handles with the U.S. government and connected policies permitting the retention and dissemination of that information.
The brief argues that the social media registration requirement and connected policies “unquestionably chill a vast quantity of speech” and harm the First Amendment rights of their users, particularly those who use pseudonymous handles to discuss political, controversial, or otherwise sensitive issues on the platforms.
"[M]any speakers use Internet forums like Reddit and Twitter to make statements that might provoke criticism or retaliation from their communities. Some employ anonymous Twitter accounts to convey disfavored political views or other information that could expose them to social stigma or loss of employment,” the brief notes. On Twitter alone, at least a quarter of accounts do not disclose a person’s full name, and many other accounts use pseudonyms. Twitter and Reddit policies clearly protect speakers’ anonymity.
Concerns that some users may suffer retaliation because of the requirement “are particularly acute now, as governments around the world have cracked down on online speakers who question authorities’ handling of the COVID-19 health crisis,” the brief states.
In a statement, Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter Vice President, Public Policy and Philanthropy, for the Americas, said: “Defending and respecting the voices of the people who use our service is one of our core values at Twitter. This value is a two-part commitment to freedom of expression and privacy. We believe the government's policy requiring visa applicants to disclose their social media handles infringes both of those rights and we are proud to lend our support on these critical legal issues.”
Reddit's VP & General Counsel Ben Lee said: "Reddit, since its inception, has held user privacy as a foundational value. With this brief we intend to defend not just our users but all users who are determined to maintain their privacy on the internet from intrusive overreach by the government."
Read the social media companies’ brief here.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and faith-based organizations also filed amicus briefs yesterday supporting the lawsuit, addressing, respectively, how much information the government can glean from social media and the impact of the registration requirement on religious minorities around the world. Read the briefs here and here.
Doc Society and the International Documentary Association, U.S.-based documentary film organizations, sued the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security last December. The State Department’s social media registration requirement, which took effect a year ago, applies to an estimated 14.7 million visa applicants each year, compelling them to disclose all social media handles that they’ve used on any of 20 platforms, including Twitter and Reddit, in the last five years. The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security can retain the collected information indefinitely, share it broadly among federal agencies, and disclose it, in some circumstances, to foreign governments.
The suit argues that the social media registration requirement forces plaintiffs’ foreign members and partners to choose between engaging in constitutionally protected speech and association and remaining in or traveling to the United States, frustrating plaintiffs’ ability to foster the cross-border cultural exchange at the core of their organization missions and depriving their American members and partners of opportunities to engage with their foreign counterparts. In April, the government filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. On Wednesday, the Knight Institute, the Brennan Center, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP filed a response. Read the brief here.
For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, Communications Director, Knight First Amendment Institute, [email protected].