Twitter, Reddit Support Lawsuit Challenging U.S. Government’s Social Media Registration Requirement for Visa Applicants
The companies say the requirement “chills a vast quantity of speech” and harms users’ First Amendment rights.
WASHINGTON -- Twitter, Reddit, and Internet Association filed an amicus brief late yesterday in support of a lawsuit filed late last year by the Brennan Center for Justice, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, 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.
"Many 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."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and faith-based organizations also filed amicus briefs yesterday (here and here) 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.
Doc Society and the International Documentary Association, U.S.-based documentary film organizations, sued the State 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 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 Brennan Center, the Knight Institute, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP filed a response.
Read the Brennan Center case page here.
About the Brennan Center for Justice
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that works to reform, revitalize and — when necessary— defend our country's systems of democracy and justice.
About the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University
The Knight First Amendment Institute defends the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Its aim is to promote a system of free expression that is open and inclusive, that broadens and elevates public discourse, and that fosters creativity, accountability, and effective self-government.
About Simpson Thacher
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is one of the world’s leading international law firms. The Firm was established in 1884 and has more than 1,000 lawyers. Headquartered in New York with offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, São Paulo, Tokyo and Washington, D.C., the Firm provides coordinated legal advice and transactional capability to clients around the globe.
Reddit is a network of communities where individuals can find experiences built around their interests, hobbies and passions. Redditors submit, vote and comment on content, stories and discussions about the topics they care about the most. With more than 430 million global users monthly, Reddit is home to the most open and authentic conversations on the Internet. For more information, visit redditinc.com.
Twitter, Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) is the best and fastest place to see what’s happening and what people are talking about all around the world. From breaking news and entertainment to sports and politics, from big events to everyday interests. If it’s happening anywhere, it’s happening first on Twitter. Twitter is where the full story unfolds with all the live commentary and where live events come to life unlike anywhere else. Twitter is available in more than 40 languages around the world. The service can be accessed at Twitter.com, on a variety of mobile devices and via SMS. For more information, visit about.twitter.com or follow @twitter.