Account Deletion Case Against Vimeo Dismissed

In a complaint filed in June of 2019, pastor and self-proclaimed “former homosexual” James Domen claimed Vimeo, a popular video hosting website, violated his freedom of speech by removing his account from their platform. A New York magistrate dismissed the complaint in an opinion on January 14.

Domen is the founder of Church United, a non-profit organization with the mission “To change and shape the moral culture of our communities in California,” and a vocal advocate for Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE), commonly referred to as conversion therapy. Domen had posted several videos to his Church United account on Vimeo discussing California’s proposed bill AB 2943, which would ban conversion therapy in California. In his videos, Domen promoted conversion therapy, which Vimeo claimed violated their terms of service.

In November of 2018, the video platform sent an email to Domen, stating his Church United account had been marked for review, claiming “Vimeo does not allow videos that promote Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE).” After the warning was given, Domen was given 24 hours to remove his content focused on promoting SOCE which only accounted for 5 of the 89 videos on the Church United account. After failing to remove the videos, Domen’s account was removed for “videos that harass, incite hatred, or include discriminatory or defamatory speech.”

In the complaint, the plaintiff argued “Vimeo did not provide Plaintiffs with an explanation for the distinction between Church United ’s videos relating to sexual orientation, testimonials, events relating to sexual orientation, and the thousands of similar videos related to LGBTQ and sexual orientation.” In addition to a lack of explanation received by Vimeo the plaintiff believed “the violation of Vimeo guidelines was merely a pretext to justify restricting and censoring Church United and James Domen ’s videos.”

Vimeo countered that “Plaintiffs’ claims infringe on Vimeo’s free speech rights “because they seek to force Vimeo to publish, host, and stream videos containing ideological messages ‘with which Vimeo disagrees.'”

The case was brought before the Southern District Court of New York, where it was dismissed by Magistrate Judge Stewart D. Aaron on the grounds of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  Aaron claimed “[t]hese allegations cannot plausibly establish a lack of good faith on the part of Vimeo since the purpose of Section 230 was to insulate interactive computer services from liability for removing some content, but not other content… There simply are no substantive allegations to support the notion that Vimeo somehow was targeting Domen because he is a “former homosexual,” as Plaintiffs posit.”

This case is not the first of its kind. MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter have all faced similar account deletion lawsuits. Much like in the Vimeo cases, the Facebook and Twitter rulings went in favor of the service provider and not the account holder.