Former President Donald Trump, who has been banned from a number of social media platforms over his inflammatory rhetoric both before and after the attack by his loyalists on the United States Capitol building earlier this year, is filing class-action lawsuits against YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, alleging he and others were improperly kicked off from those sites.
Trump is joining a legal effort spearheaded by the America First Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on promoting Trump-friendly policies. The class-action suits would allow Trump to include others’ complaints against the social media sites over being “wrongly” banned.
Trump was banned from those sites and others because his rhetoric earlier this year was deemed to be dangerous and risked furthering the violence that occurred following the attack on the Capitol building by a mob of his loyalists on January 6, during the certification of the Electoral College. Trump is currently being sued himself by a number of lawmakers in Congress over his own actions and rhetoric leading up to that day’s events.
As Axios pointed out in its reporting on Wednesday, Trump and other critics have not demonstrated any substantive evidence showcasing Facebook or Twitter are biased against conservatives within their policies or how they implement them.
“America is under threat from ideologies that are eroding our founding principles,” the America First Policy Institute wrote, somewhat ironically, in a Facebook post sharing video of the former president’s announcement. “The American way of life, including federalism, free speech, and the rule of law, are being undermined and distorted in our courts.”
The organization, along with Trump and other litigators, “will fight to restore government that is of the people, for the people, and by the people,” it added.
“We’re demanding an end to the shadowbanning, a stop to the silencing, and a stop to the blacklisting, banishing and canceling that you know so well,” Trump said in his own remarks.
Former President Trump announces class action lawsuit against big tech giants, including Facebook, Google and Twitter: "We're 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." pic.twitter.com/BXPKcACOj2
— CSPAN (@cspan) July 7, 2021
Trump also described the lawsuits as “a very beautiful development for freedom of speech,” and called the social media ban against him and others for inciting violence “illegal, shameful censorship of the American people.”
None of the companies being sued are government entities, and are therefore not held to the same standards within the First Amendment of the Constitution. Nevertheless, the lawsuits against Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all allege that the companies should be considered in the same light as the federal government.
The lawsuits contend, perhaps ridiculously so, that the status of Facebook, Twitter and Google rises “beyond that of a private company to that of a state actor” because they each allow individuals to express their views on a variety of topics, including objectionable content. The lawsuits also contend that Section 230, a U.S. law that is viewed as largely responsible for shaping the internet as we know it today, is being wrongly applied to allow these sites the right to impose terms of service that let them ban users who don’t follow their rules.
The law allows social media and other websites to moderate content from third-party groups or individuals so that they don’t have to worry about legal liability if content is published that’s deemed illegal or inflammatory. As in the case with Trump, whose posts the sites deemed to be dangerous, social media platforms have tremendous leeway as private companies to determine the rules under which their sites may be used.
“Section 230 protects online platforms from liability for the speech of their users, while protecting their flexibility to develop their own speech moderation policies,” Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, explained in an article for Truthout last fall.
Some observers on social media noted that Trump’s involvement in the class-action suits would be problematic for a number of reasons — not the least of which is the fact that, if they move forward, he’ll likely have to give a deposition about the January 6 breach of the Capitol building.
“Assuming the lawsuit advances (which is a big if), Trump will have to give sworn testimony about January 6,” journalist Ben Jacobs said.
Others pointed out that the lawsuits themselves may have been filed in the wrong places to begin with.
“Trump’s Facebook lawsuit is filed in federal court in Florida,” Reuters reporter Brad Heath tweeted. “Facebook’s terms of service require that ‘any claim, cause of action, or dispute you have against us’ be filed in federal court in northern California or San Mateo County state court.”
The arguments within the lawsuits themselves weren’t that promising, others, including former Silicon Valley lawyer Mark Gray, said.
“The only claims in the lawsuit are violations of the First Amendment (by Facebook [and other social media companies]) and that Section 230 is unconstitutional. That’s… an argument,” Gray wrote, heavily implying in his comments that the legal disputes of being improperly banned on social media were questionable, at best.