Trump Vs Big Tech: Ex-US President Sues Facebook, Twitter And Google Over 'Censorship'
We are demanding an end to the shadow-banning, a stop to the silencing, and a stop to the blacklisting, banishing, and cancelling that you know so well, says former US president Donald Trump.
The former president of the United States, Donald Trump has announced the filing of class-action lawsuit against American tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google's YouTube on 7 July, claiming that he is the victim of censorship. According to reports, the class-action lawsuit also targets the chief executive officers (CEOs) of these companies—Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Sundar Pichai.
In January 2021, Trump's social media accounts were restricted due to public safety concerns following the Capitol riot, which was spearheaded by his supporters. On 6 January, many pro-Trump supporters violently stormed the Capitol building to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden's presidential victory. This incident happened soon after Trump delivered a speech in front of his supporters, which played a role in terms of provoking people along with his social media posts. However, soon after the attack at the Capitol building, these social media companies decided to keep Trump out of the platforms—which he had been using heavily to convey his messages—due to concerns that he will spark more violence.
According to a report by the Associated Press, Trump said of the filings that "we're asking the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida to order an immediate halt to social media companies' illegal, shameful censorship of the American people. We're going to hold big tech very accountable". While announcing the lawsuit at a news conference from his golf resort in New Jersey's Bedminster, he also called it "a very beautiful development for our freedom of speech". Additionally, the forty-fifth American President also said: "We are demanding an end to the shadow-banning, a stop to the silencing, and a stop to the blacklisting, banishing, and cancelling that you know so well". According to him, if these tech giants can ban a president's account, then they could do the same to anyone.
As per another report by the Business Insider, on 7 July, Trump issued a rallying call to his supporters in an email titled "I'm taking on Big Tech". The twist was that the email was written in the same style as Winston Churchill's famous World War II speech, "We shall fight on the beaches". He wrote in the email: "Today, my team and I announced our plan to Take on Big Tech. We are SUING the big tech tyrants: Facebook, Twitter and Google. This lawsuit is just the beginning and just one part of a bigger fight. This suit isn't the whole battle: it's an opening shot". In addition, the former president also said: "We'll fight in the courts, we'll fight in the legislatures, and we'll fight at the ballot boxes until the American people have their rights and sovereignty restored".
These three tech behemoths are all private firms, and to use their services, users must agree to their terms of conditions. In the US, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 allows these social media platforms to moderate their services by removing posts that are obscene or violate the services' standards if they act in "good faith". In general, the law exempts internet companies from liability for the content that users post. But Trump and some of the other politicians have long argued that such social media platforms have misused their immunity and should be stripped of it—or at the very least, severely limited.
As per the lawsuit filed against Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the platform acted unconstitutionally when it removed Trump from the social media site. Similar claims are made in the lawsuits filed against Twitter and YouTube. All three request that the court award unspecified damages, declare Section 230 unconstitutional and restore Trump's accounts, as well as those of several other plaintiffs who joined the suits and have also had posts or accounts deleted. According to Reuters, Paul Gowder, a professor of law at Northwestern University said: "This complaint is hard to even make sense of". When it comes to censorship, Trump tried to portray social media companies as subject to the same First Amendment requirements as government entities, but as per Gowder, nothing in the lawsuit "even comes close to turning social media companies into government actors".
According to Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University in California who has reviewed more than 60 previous failed lawsuits that aimed to hold internet providers accountable for cancelling or suspending customers' accounts, Trump's lawsuits are certain to fail. Goldman said: "They've argued everything under the sun, including First Amendment, and they get nowhere. Maybe he's got a trick up the sleeve that will give him a leg up on the dozens of lawsuits before him. I doubt it". He also said Trump's legal team knows that they are not going to win in court, but anyway, his political action committee had already begun raising funds.
Paul Barrett, the deputy director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University's Stern School of Business, claimed that Trump had a fundamental misunderstanding of the United States Constitution. He told Associated Press: "The First Amendment applies to government censorship or speech regulation. It does not stop private-sector corporations from regulating content on their platforms". Additionally, he stated that "Facebook and Twitter themselves have a First Amendment free speech right to determine what speech their platforms project and amplify—and that right includes excluding speakers who incite violence, as Trump did in connection with the 6 January Capitol insurrection".
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