Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is suing Google and YouTube for a censorship campaign he calls “unprecedented in American history”
The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California, claims that RFK Jr. was targeted by YouTube and Google after he announced his presidential primary campaign against Joe Biden.
“Since Mr. Kennedy declared his candidacy,” the complaint argues, “YouTube has removed other videos of him speaking, including interviews he did with Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan.”
YouTube cited its policies on COVID-19 vaccine misinformation for the takedowns, including one March 2023 speech by RFK Jr. at Saint Anselm’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics. According to the lawsuit, Manchester Public Television was unable to post the video on its YouTube channel because of “controversial vaccination content.” The complaint cited the networks’ station director, who said that despite having recorded more than 100 events at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, they “cannot recall this happening before.”
According to RFK Jr., “only a portion of the speech dealt with his views about vaccines or COVID-19.” Instead, he discussed the Democratic National Committee’s plan to remove New Hampshire from its first-in-nation spot on the primary calendar, and Kennedy’s environmental activism. But, he says, “YouTube removed everything.”
YouTube, RFK Jr. complained, hasn’t adjusted their behavior towards him since he announced his candidacy in April. He argued that as a candidate now, YouTube has an obligation to act as a public forum and allow his speech.
He drew a sharp contrast between his treatment by YouTube with his treatment by Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In comparison to them, “YouTube has not treated Mr. Kennedy differently now that he is a political candidate. If anything, Mr. Kennedy’s candidacy, and the issues of public concern he speaks about, have made him an even bigger target for the public/private censorship regime that Google and YouTube are an integral part of.”
Meta didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether they changed their treatment of Kennedy Jr. since he announced his candidacy.
RFK Jr.’s lawsuit names Google as well as YouTube because, he alleges, “Google LLC has complete ownership and control over YouTube’s operations.”
Google didn’t respond to a request for comment about the role they play in YouTube’s content moderation operations.
Kennedy alleged that YouTube’s actions weren’t taken just in concert with Google, but also with the federal government.
“There is a sufficiently close nexus between YouTube and the federal government such that YouTube’s actions may be fairly treated as that of the government itself,” the complaint alleges.
Kennedy cited an email first published by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey showing Clarke Humphrey, the White House’s Digital Director for the COVID-19 Response Team, asking Twitter to take down a tweet where Kennedy drew a link between Hank Aaron’s death and the former home run king’s Moderna vaccination 16 days earlier.
“Wanted to flag the below tweet and am wondering if we can get moving on the process for having it removed ASAP,” Humphrey wrote in January 2021.
“Thanks, we recently escalated this,” came the response from Twitter.
Karen Sullivan, the medical examiner for Fulton County, where Aaron died, told AFP that “There was no information suggestive of an allergic or anaphylactic reaction to any substance which might be attributable to recent vaccine distribution.”
That tweet is still up.
RFK Jr. didn’t provide any examples of YouTube coordinating with the White House, but argued that the federal government was offering “significant encouragement, both overt and covert” to YouTube to censor his views. He specifically cited the federal government “threatening to take away certain legal protections that YouTube has under federal law (namely immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act)” as the basis for this.
In May, the Supreme Court ruled that the statue protects tech corporations like Twitter and Google from liability.
RFK Jr. is asking the court for an order declaring that YouTube and Google violated his First Amendment rights when they partnered with federal government officials, “including those who work for Mr Kennedy’s political opponent,” to censor his political speech.
He also wants YouTube to put back up any videos of his political speech that they’ve removed during the 2024 presidential campaign, and for a court order that declares YouTube’s medical misinformation policies are “unconstitutional on their face.”
Furthermore, he wants an injunction that prohibits YouTube from enforcing those policies.