Former President Donald Trump filed class-action lawsuits against Facebook, Google, and Twitter on Wednesday, intensifying his long-running feud with the corporations after they suspended his accounts.
Legal experts and business organisations slammed the claims right away, expecting that they would fail in court. However, the complaints, which were filed in federal district court in Miami, raised a number of legal allegations that will appeal to Trump's most ardent fans, who have long claimed that social media corporations discriminate against conservative views.
“We demand an end to the shadowbanning, the silencing, and the blacklisting, banishment, and cancellation that you are all too familiar with,” Trump stated.
The lawsuits claim that the companies violated Trump's First Amendment rights by suspending his accounts, and argue that Facebook, Twitter, and Google-owned YouTube should no longer be considered private companies, but rather "state actors" whose actions are limited by First Amendment restrictions on government restrictions on free speech. The First Amendment has always limited solely government actions, not those of private businesses.
Section 230, a decades-old Internet statute that protects computer corporations from liability over content moderation decisions, was also challenged in the lawsuits.
Unspecified punitive damages are sought in the lawsuits.
Hundreds of similar claims have failed in court, according to Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University Law School in California. Trump, he claimed, is "playing a classic media game." It fits into a larger pattern of the former president filing litigation and then failing to pursue them aggressively."
He said, "There's no way a plaintiff has ever been able to achieve traction in the past, and there's no way Trump will be able to get movement now."
The litigation, according to Paul Barret, deputy director of the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, were doomed from the start.
“Trump is completely wrong about the First Amendment,” he added in a statement. "In fact, Facebook and Twitter have a First Amendment free speech right to determine what speech is projected and amplified on their platforms — and that right includes deleting those who advocate violence, as Trump did in the Capitol insurgency on January 6."
A federal judge used identical logic only last week to strike down a Florida statute that aimed to punish tech companies that suspended lawmakers in the run-up to an election. District Judge Robert Hinkle said that the Florida law will almost certainly be declared unconstitutional because it "forces providers to host speech that violates their standards."
Trump's contention that the firms should be labelled "state actors" is similarly unlikely to prevail, according to legal experts.
“Just because they profit from a federal legislation does not make them a federal employee,” said Brian Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt University. “Everyone benefits from laws at some time in their lives, but that does not turn us become the federal government.”
The argument is a "crackpot hypothesis" that people try to make from time to time in an attempt to make the First Amendment extend to private firms, according to John Bergmayer, legal director at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that supports Internet access.
“If that were true, every company would be a government actor,” says the author "he stated "The government issues a charter to every business. Is this to imply that every corporation is a state actor?”
The lawsuits are the latest chapter in Trump's tumultuous relationship with social media companies, which aided his political rise and served as critical megaphones during his presidency until both platforms suspended his account in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol, citing incitement of violence. Republicans have escalated their political attacks on the Silicon Valley behemoths since then, calling the action censorship.
Trump claims that the businesses were "operating closely with government officials to stifle free speech" in the lawsuits. He cited limits on bogus accusations of significant election fraud during the 2020 election as evidence of Facebook's ties to the government, as well as the removal of misinformation about hydroxychloroquine being a cure for covid-19. Democratic lawmakers' warnings to regulate social media amid a flood of false information about the pandemic and election, according to the lawsuits, frightened Facebook.
Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of the tech trade association NetChoice, said, "That's a gross misconception of how one becomes a state actor."
Szabo dubbed the lawsuit a "rewrite of history," pointing out that Republican politicians and Trump himself had vowed to regulate internet businesses on several occasions. “It simply seems like this is a case of ‘It's fine if I do it, but it's not fine if other people do it,'” Szabo explained.
In an emailed statement, Jessica Melugin, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Technology and Innovation, labelled the case a "publicity stunt."
“These social media platforms are private property, not the government town square,” she explained, adding that they are entirely within their First Amendment rights to refuse to carry third-party speech.
Following the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol, Twitter permanently suspended Trump's account in January, citing the potential of additional violence. The former president has been suspended for two years by Facebook, which has stated that he would only be reinstated if "the risk to public safety has receded." Since then, Trump's online popularity has plummeted. After stories from The Washington Post and other publications noting its low readership, he just shut down his blog after only 29 days.
Trump made clear that the lawsuits were filed in response to those actions.
At the news conference, he stated, "Of course, there's no better evidence that Big Tech is out of control than the fact that they banned the incumbent president of the United States earlier this year." “They can do it to anyone if they can do it to me.”
Facebook, Google, and Twitter did not respond to requests for comment. The suits were labelled "frivolous" by the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represents the corporations.
In a statement, CCIA president Matt Schruers said, "Digital services have the right to enforce their terms of service." "Frivolous class action litigation will not change the fact that users, including Presidents of the United States, must follow the regulations they consented to."
Trump railed about social media giants for supposedly suppressing him and other conservatives long before those spectacular rebukes. He signed an executive order in May 2020 that targeted Section 230. In May, President Biden withdrew the decree.
He also rallied his online fans at the White House two years ago during a "Social Media Summit," where he railed against tech corporations for demonstrating "awful bias" and suppressing his supporters. In the same year, the Trump administration initiated a social media campaign to collect accounts of alleged political bias.
Meanwhile, House Republicans intensified their attacks on Big Tech on Wednesday, as part of a bipartisan effort to rewrite US competition laws. The House Judiciary Committee presented a strategy advocating for a rewrite of Section 230 and a speedier review of antitrust cases by the courts.
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