- New York Attorney General Letitia James rescinded her letter to Rumble demanding social media platforms censor content related to the Israel-Hamas war that “may incite violence.”
- The AG’s letter violated the First Amendment and a federal court order blocking enforcement of New York’s Online Hate Speech law.
NEW YORK, N.Y., Oct. 20, 2023 — Less than 24 hours after the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression called on New York Attorney General Letitia James to retract a letter pressuring private social media platforms to censor protected speech, she rescinded the demand as it pertained to FIRE plaintiff Rumble.
On Oct. 12, the attorney general sent a letter demanding that social media platforms, including Rumble, Meta, and Reddit, provide information about what they are doing to “stop the spread of hateful content” related to the Israel-Hamas war and report back to her about their editorial policies and practices.
“We’re glad the attorney general is starting to back down,” said FIRE attorney Daniel Ortner. “Her letter was ill-advised and violated a court order.”
In light of the war between Israel and Hamas, the attorney general demanded that six platforms answer a list of questions about their content-moderation policies and practices. James expressed her concern about posts that “may incite violence against Jewish and Muslim people.”
The letter, titled “Removing Calls for Violence,” asks platforms how they are addressing alleged “recent calls for violence” and tells them to “describe in detail” everything from their existing content-moderation policies, to their process for identifying and blocking problematic posts and banning their authors. The attorney general’s press release goes further — demanding that the platforms “prohibit the spread of violent rhetoric” and “hateful content,” and vowing to “hold social media companies accountable.” The deadline for the platforms to respond is today, Oct. 20.
The inquiries are at odds with longstanding Supreme Court precedent that under the First Amendment, “violent” or “hateful” speech is protected. Even speech that “may incite violence” is protected unless a speaker intends to cause imminent violence and the speech is likely to cause imminent violence — like when a speaker works a mob into a frenzy and tells them to go burn down a nearby building. There is no “hateful” or “violent” speech exception to the First Amendment.
In sending the letter, the attorney general also did exactly what a federal court told her not to do. Last December, FIRE brought a lawsuit against Attorney General James on behalf of Rumble, Locals, and blogger Eugene Volokh over a New York law that forces websites and apps to address “hateful” online speech.
FIRE successfully secured a preliminary injunction which forbids the attorney general from enforcing the law — against Rumble or anyone else. The attorney general’s Oct. 12 demand letter violated this injunction by implementing the statute and pressuring Rumble and others to censor platform users. FIRE’s response threatened further legal action if she did not retract the letters by Oct. 20.
“Rescinding the letter to Rumble is not enough. By retracting the letter for only one of the platforms, the attorney general is still flouting the court’s order,” said FIRE senior attorney Jay Diaz. “We hope the court will intervene to ensure Attorney General James does not continue violating the injunction and the First Amendment, now and in the future.”
In the last two weeks, powerful U.S. politicians across the political spectrum have called on social media to limit protected speech on their platforms. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) have all demanded social media platforms take action to remove or prohibit protected speech related to the Israel-Hamas war.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them.
Katie Kortepeter, Communications Campaign Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org