Trump takes GOP anti-tech crusade deeper into court


Speaking at a televised event announcing the class actions, aired on a website that included a prominent “Donate” button, Trump said he hoped the move would usher in a wave of complaints against tech companies .

“I guess this is the first of many more trials that would follow, but this is the first, and I think this is going to be a very, very important game changer for our country,” he said. “It will be a crucial battle in the defense of the First Amendment.”

It’s unlikely, freedom of expression law experts have said.

“This lawsuit is a stunt, and it is unlikely to find any ground in court,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, adding that Trump’s legal claims do not are “not at all convincing” and run counter to his own record as president.

“The complaint argues that [Democratic] lawmakers forced Facebook to censor the speech, but no government actor has engaged in this kind of coercion more brazenly than Trump himself, ”Jaffer said.

Republicans have won little or no legislative or regulatory victories in their efforts to punish tech companies for allegedly suppressing their views. Trump’s own efforts during his tenure to get federal agencies and Congress to reduce corporate legal protections have fizzled out.

And with Democrats now in charge of Congress and the White House, Republicans have found themselves with little to no options to inflict real federal damage on tech companies for alleged bias against conservatives. Democrats, who dismiss accusations of bias as fantasy, instead focus on efforts to facilitate the separation of the tech giants – a cause that has attracted some support from the GOP. (The companies themselves deny the censorship accusations.)

But the deluge of complaints filed Wednesday by Trump and other plaintiffs against Google-owned Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and their senior executives has dragged tech companies into another uncomfortable and very public fight with the former president, which they have been having. suspended from their duties. platforms after congratulating the rioters who ransacked the Capitol on January 6.

Litigation reflects pressure for courts to engage in online political free speech debates that have divided Democrats and Republicans across Washington and crippled most legislative efforts to regulate platforms .

“Taking this to court is the right way to do it,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook public policy director who was on staff for Trump ally Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 campaign staff. “We have to start to have precedents around some of these types of issues to actually go through the proper legal process.”

On the one hand, Trump’s lawsuits call on the courts to repeal a legal shield for tech companies known as Section 230 that he unsuccessfully tried to reduce during his tenure, a law his Republican allies on Capitol Hill have also targeted with no real effect. The 1996 provision protects websites from legal action relating to the content posted by the users they host, and gives them free rein to take “good faith” action to limit the content they deem dangerous, harmful or objectionable. in any way.

Trump’s litigation faces an uphill battle in the courts, where a long line of rulings have made it clear that the First Amendment’s free speech protections apply only to government action – they do not preclude private companies, including social media networks, to control host content. The lawsuits seek to overcome this hurdle by claiming that the actions of the social media companies amounted to “state action” because they acted “in concert with federal officials, including CDC and White House officials. (Biden) “.

“Taking it to court really gives them the opportunity to have these facts debated and presented and then tried in the courts,” said Clare Morell, former adviser to Trump’s Attorney General William Barr and political analyst at Ethics and Public Policy. . Center.

Some legal scholars said on Wednesday that these arguments were without merit.

“Trump and his lawyers must read the first line of the First Amendment,” Barbara McQuade, professor of practice at the University of Michigan Law School, tweeted. “His lawsuit complaining about censorship against private social media companies and their executives is going nowhere. ”

Trump’s lawsuits are the latest in a long line of complaints filed in court by prominent Republican officials and conservative groups alleging they have been censored by tech giants, cases that have been widely dismissed from the immediately by the courts.

Trump said he plans to sue Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, CEOs of Twitter and Facebook respectively, as well as Sundar Pichai, who runs Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube. The cases were filed in federal court in the Southern District of Florida.

The lawsuit is supported by the America First Policy Institute, a newly formed nonprofit with ideological allies and former Trump administration officials to advance the former president’s agenda after his departure of its functions. The litigious former president has a decades-long history of lawsuits and threatened lawsuits, dating back to his career as a New York City real estate developer.

Trump bitterly complained that he lost his megaphone on social media in the wake of the Jan.6 insurgency, arguing that his expulsion from these platforms is evidence of a bias against the conservative rhetoric of the giants of the world. technology. In June, Facebook announced that the earliest date Trump would be allowed to regain access to his accounts would be 2023.

Despite the popularity of right-wing figures on major social media platforms, Republicans have grown increasingly driven by the idea of ​​”grand tech censorship” and have sought ways to bring these companies under control. Florida lawmakers passed a law that would ban platforms from banning political candidates or risking hefty fines, but a federal judge last week issued a preliminary injunction blocking its implementation.

The Supreme Court ruled nearly half a century ago that newspapers’ First Amendment rights mean they cannot be required by state law to print political material, such as rebuttals. editorials or endorsements. The same logic would apply to online platforms like Facebook and Twitter, say tech company advocates.

Eric Goldman, professor of law at the University of Santa Clara, recently conducted a study of 61 legal cases concerning the termination or blocking of social media accounts.

“The headline is: They All Lost,” Goldman said. “Complainants cannot win by carrying these cases. They tried every argument Trump tried and many others, and they got nowhere. Ninety percent of these cases failed at the dismissal stage.

Trump’s cases have been assigned to three separate judges, possibly increasing Trump’s chances of a long-term ruling in his favor at the trial court level.

Trump’s lawsuit against YouTube has been attributed to Judge K. Michael Moore, appointed by George HW Bush. The case against Twitter has been assigned to Judge Robert N. Scola Jr., appointed by Barack Obama. The lawsuit against Facebook was attributed to Judge Kathleen Williams, also appointed by Obama.

The primary law firm behind these cases is Ivey, Barnum & O’Mara, based in Greenwich, Ct., Whose website does not claim any particular expertise in internet or tech-related litigation. Among the attorneys signing the cases is Washington-based litigator John Coale, who worked closely with the Clinton White House in the 1990s on tobacco regulations. Coale has since displayed eclectic political interests, advising figures such as former governors. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) and Martin O’Malley (D-Md.)

Nick Niedzwiadek and Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.


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