Twitter, Reddit Fight U.S. Demands for Visa Applicant’s Online Identities

TOPSHOT - A Chinese couple tests the new iPhone 7 during the opening sale launch at an Apple store in Shanghai on September 16, 2016.

Social media giant Twitter and the “front page of the Internet” Reddit have reportedly filed supporting evidence in a lawsuit against the United States government which challenges a requirement for visa applicants to provide their social media identities. According to the two companies, requiring a visa applicant to provide their social media accounts to the government “violates the First Amendment rights to speak anonymously and associate privately.”

The Verge reports that Reddit and Twitter have taken a stand against a new U.S. government requirement for visa applicants to hand over their social media handles for scrutiny. The companies have reportedly filed supporting evidence in a lawsuit challenging the requirement.

The companies are arguing that the new requirements would “unquestionably chill a vast quantity of speech” and that it “violates the First Amendment rights to speak anonymously and associate privately.”

The two firms stated: “Those guarantees are deeply rooted in this nation’s history, which has long cherished anonymity’s role in guaranteeing a robust marketplace of ideas — one where speakers can choose to keep their identity and their associations private as ‘a shield from the tyranny of the majority.’”

The evidence submitted by the firms is supported by the Internet Association, a trade association that represents U.S. tech firms including Facebook and Google. In 2019, a requirement for visa applicants to detail their social media accounts was introduced and affects approximately 14.7 million people each year. This includes individuals traveling to the United States for work and study.

Visa applicants must submit the handles and identities they use across twenty online sites including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Reddit.

Last year, The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice, and lawyers from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP filed a lawsuit against the State Department on behalf of two U.S.-based documentary film organizations, the Doc Society and International Documentary Association.

The documentary makers argued that the use of anonymous online accounts was vital to their investigations and safety of their team. One filmmaker cited research conducted into online Nazi groups using anonymous accounts. Another stated that they used fake names online to protect against political prosecution in their home country of Syria.

In their amicus brief, Twitter and Reddit stated that there was a wide range of reasons that users might want to remain anonymous online and that enabling anonymous speech is a major part of their platforms.

“Twitter and Reddit vigorously guard the right to speak anonymously for people on their platforms, and anonymous individuals correspondingly communicate on these platforms with the expectation that their identities will not be revealed without a specific showing of compelling need,” said the companies. “That expectation allows the free exchange of ideas to flourish on these platforms.”

Twitter Vice President for Public Policy and Philanthropy, Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, said in a statement that the firms were committed to “freedom of expression and privacy,” adding:  “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 General Counsel and Vice President Ben Lee stated that privacy was a “foundational value” for the self-declared “front page of the internet.” Lee added: “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.”

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address


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