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Tuesday, January 12, 2021 : By Nathan Skates
Parler, the alternative social media site that attracted conservative users due to its policy of non-censorship and free speech, has sued Amazon after the company banned Parler from its hosting service. The suit claims the decision is a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act by attempting to protect Twitter from competition; the suit also claims the decision was the result of political animus.
Parler has effectively been shut down as users are unable to access content after Amazon banned the social media site, ostensibly for failing to moderate violent content. Other tech companies such as Google and Apple also banned Parler from their app stores. Parler responded by filing a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Seattle, claiming that the companies are violating antitrust laws and doing irreparable harm to the social media site. The suit also claims that such actions are also based on political animus. The ban on Parler and its users comes after Twitter permanently banned President Donald Trump and other social media sites instituted permanent or temporary bans on the President. As crackdowns on conservative users grow, Big Tech employees and alums are working with the Biden administration to help it choose cabinet members and staff other influential positions.
Parler’s suit claims that Amazon Web Service’s decision was “apparently motivated by political animus.” The suit also claims that the decision violates antitrust laws in order to protect Twitter from competition. In addition, the suit argues that Amazon breached the terms of its contract by failing to give a 30-day notice that Parler would be dropped from their service.
Parler’s suit states:
“Last month, Defendant Amazon Web Services, Inc. (“AWS”) and the popular social media platform Twitter signed a multi-year deal so that AWS could support the daily delivery of millions of tweets. AWS currently provides that same service to Parler, a conservative microblogging alternative and competitor to Twitter.”
The suit continued,
“When Twitter announced two evenings ago that it was permanently banning President Trump from its platform, conservative users began to flee Twitter en masse for Parler. The exodus was so large that the next day, yesterday, Parler became the number one free app downloaded from Apple’s App Store.”
In an interview, Matze claimed the decision to ban Parler is a “double standard,” saying that Twitter allows “nasty threatening content.” By banning Parler, the Big Tech companies essentially blackballed it, causing other services that do business in the tech space to also cut ties. Matze explained, “Every vendor from text-message services to e-mail providers to our lawyers all ditched us too on the same day.” While Matze says the social media company is ready to get back up and running if a vendor with enough servers permits it, Parler’s lawsuit claims the suspension will be “financially devastating” as it will take time and resources to switch its accounts and content to a new platform.
U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who had an account on Parler with three million followers who he cannot no longer communicate with, said there should be a racketeering investigation into what he called an “attack on not only a company, but on all of those like us.” He added: “The effect of this is that there is no longer a free and open social media company or site for any American to get on any longer.”
While Nunes calls for an investigation, the Biden administration is forming close ties to tech alums. Several former and current tech employees are playing a role in the Biden administration. Jessica Hertz, a former Facebook lawyer, will be Biden’s White House staff secretary, responsible for vetting which correspondence and appointments reach his desk. Emily Horne, who worked at Twitter, will run the White House National Security Council’s communications with the media.
According to the New York Post, several other Big Tech employees are currently reviewing Biden’s appointments. The list is pretty extensive:
“Mark Schwartz from Amazon Web Services is helping vet appointments to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which controls spending policy across the federal bureaucracy. Google global program manager Deon Scott is reviewing applicants to the Department of Homeland Security, Facebook strategic response aide Zaid Zaid is on the Biden vetting team for State Department jobs, Facebook associate general counsel Christopher Upperman is working on the Small Business Administration, and Facebook director of strategic response Rachel Lieber is vetting spy agency staff. Amazon international tax director Tom Sullivan is vetting State Department appointments and Cynthia Hogan, who led Apple’s lobbying as vice president for public policy and government affairs, previously helped with Biden’s VP selection vetting.”
And that door swings both ways. Kamala Harris’s former press secretary, Nick Pacilio, left her employ this past summer to take a job as Twitter’s senior communications manager. In September, Pacilio announced that Twitter would remove a video that President Trump shared of an interview he did with Fox and Friends because “it downplayed the risk of children contracting COVID.”
These developments are highly disturbing. Even The American Civil Liberties Union’s senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane voiced concern, saying,
“We understand the desire to permanently suspend [Trump] now, but it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions — especially when political realities make those decisions easier.”
Tech companies have clearly begun a “purge” of those who disagree ideologically. And it wasn’t just Trump who was and is being banned. Thousands of conservative Twitter users have had their accounts shut down, including high-profile media personalities and elected government officials, along with millions of Parler users, who had their voices silenced literally overnight—whether or not they had “violated” any Big Tech “rules.”
Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with safety. As many have noted, after banning Trump from Twitter, the social media giant allowed “hang Mike Pence” to trend. Many on the left have advocated for actual violence without ever being removed from the platform. As an example, Twitter allowed Antifa members to organize violent protests at the Federal Courthouse in Portland and post video of attacks on law enforcement.
The media outlet Slate posted a tweet on June 4, 2020, that stated: “Non-violence is an important tool for protests, but so is violence.” Did that tweet inspire Slate’s Twitter readership to commit violence in pursuit of their cause? No one can say for sure, but violence did take place during Antifa and Black Lives Matter protests in 140 cities across the U.S. throughout the remainder of 2020, making it the most costly manmade disaster in history, according to Property Claims Services, which has been tracking civil disorder claims since 1950.
Although the protests were routinely characterized as “mostly peaceful,” there were plenty of violent protesters who set buildings and vehicles on fire, attacked law enforcement officers, destroyed businesses, looted, and yes, killed people. Three days after the Slate tweet, David Dorn, an African American security guard was shot to death by looters during a riot in St. Louis, while just a month later in Atlanta, protesters shot to death an eight-year-old African American girl named Secoriea Turner while she was riding in the backseat of her mother’s car.
And much of this violence was spurred on by U.S. lawmakers and high-profile influencers. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) called for “unrest in the streets.” Is she banned from Twitter? Of course not. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet [of the Trump administration] in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” Yet Maxine Waters wasn’t banned from Twitter.
In 2017, “comedian” Kathy Griffin infamously posted an image of her holding Trump’s bloody and decapitated head, which she reposted again on election night 2020. While Twitter did block the tweet, Griffin is still on Twitter. Evidently she isn’t deemed guilty by Twitter for violating its rules or inciting violence.
Big Tech companies have been flexing their muscles for some time to try to stop the spread of information they don’t like. Most infamously, in October prior to the election, they suspended the account of the New York Post, a major national newspaper, over a story the paper had published about the email contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop. As a result, many voters never learned until after the election that a presidential candidate may have been involved in his son’s suspicious business dealings with foreign countries.
Big Tech companies have operated with immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, claiming that they are not publishers, yet they engage in political censorship and have used that censorship to influence elections and policy. These companies have also been allowed to become monopolies who can crush any competitor at will without repercussion.
The strong presence of tech alums in the Biden administration is also deeply concerning, both because it reveals their political persuasions and gives tech companies far too much power in shaping official U.S. policy and helping their own competitive and monetary prospects. As Steven Nelson wrote for the New York Post, “personnel is policy,” and by allowing tech alums to have such a large impact on the Biden administration, there is no chance that these companies will lose Section 230 immunity or be held accountable for violating antitrust laws.
And that means censorship under the auspices of tolerance and safety will only grow. The only hope for combatting this assault on free speech and the free expression of ideas is for the courts to stand up for the First Amendment. If they don’t, they will effectively have shut down the cornerstone principle of what it means to be a free and open society.