Ousted from some of the world’s largest social media platforms after the U.S. Capitol siege on Jan. 6, Donald Trump made it clear he wants back in: On Wednesday, the former president revealed he filed class-acton lawsuits against Facebook, Twitter and Google and their chief executive officers.
Trump proclaimed at a news conference in his Bedminster, N.J., golf club that “we’re demanding an end to the shadow banning, a stop to the silencing, a stop to the blacklisting, vanishing and canceling.” He said his suit asks for “punitive damages,” possibly in the “trillions,” he added, along with his reinstatement.
He took aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a key protection for Big Tech platforms that gives them free reign to moderate their users’ content. Fundamentally, Trump argues that his social media bans are unconstitutional, running afoul of the First Amendment on free speech grounds.
“We are going to make sure that the liability protection that they have under Section 230 is at a very minimum changed, and at a maximum taken away,” he said.
However, most experts believe this legal gambit is doomed — largely because Facebook, Twitter and Google, owner of video platform YouTube, are private businesses, not government organizations, so free speech protections aren’t applicable.
In a statement to reporters, Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior counselor for the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, called the lawsuit “preposterous, which should not come as a surprise given Trump’s affinity for filing frivolous lawsuits.”
The flawed basis of the argument is hard to get around, though Trump’s legal team is doing its best. It claims that the tech companies act as extensions of the federal government, making them subject to the same standards. The contention is a first, and a long shot at best.
Filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the class-action lawsuit names Trump as the lead plaintiff, but also covers other U.S. users who were unfairly “censored” since June 2018. According to documents filed, the suit asks the court to restore Trump’s Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts and block the companies from “exercising censorship, editorial control or prior restraint in its many forms over the posts of President Trump and Putative Class Members.”
The scope reaches beyond the companies, going so far as to target Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google, respectively, calling them “personally responsible.”
Trump was exiled from the platforms following his supporters’ attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop Joe Biden’s certification as president. Facebook initially suspended him on a temporary basis, but recently extended the ban to a minimum of two years, potentially lifting the suspension in 2023. Twitter and YouTube suspended him indefinitely.
This legal escalation arrives after Trump’s blog launched this spring and then quickly fizzled out, likely due to low traffic, and loyalist Jason Miller’s new social media platform, Gettr, found itself beset with massive uploads of porn and spam after going live last week. This week, hackers infiltrated the site and nabbed tens of thousands of email addresses.
Last week also saw a U.S. judge in Florida block a state law demanding that tech companies host social media posts from politicians, regardless of whether they violate their content policies or standards. The law would have severely restricted the platforms’ ability to curb misinformation.