Donald Trump, the former President, has filed class action lawsuits against Facebook and Google subsidiary YouTube, as well as CEOs Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey. These lawsuits are filed six months after Trump was temporarily or permanently removed from all three platforms.
Trump today announced the lawsuits in a press conference, following an earlier report by Axios. Trump called the lawsuits “a very important game-changer in our country’s history.”
The claims are based on a combination of mostly untested or ignored legal arguments. They come after many other failed attempts at suing social media companies for suspensions and other forms of moderation.
The complaint alleges that social media companies suspended Trump and other users from their network. This is an argument that courts have often ignored — ruling that the First Amendment was intended to limit censorship by government agencies, not private companies. The America First Policy Institute is backing him, an advocacy group that was founded by former Trump officials Linda McMahon, Brooke Rollins, and others.
Trump’s lawsuits seek damages for any user whose account was “wrongly limited or curtailed” via Facebook, Twitter or another Google service. It requests that the courts declare Section 230 of Communications Decency Act unconstitutional. Trump paradoxically cited Section 230 to justify suing companies during his press conference. However, he incorrectly stated that “once they get Section 230 they are not private companies.”
This claim seems to also challenge the foundation of social media terms and service agreements. For example, Facebook claims that it “expressly constrained” users into agreeing to speech restrictions.
Trump described the class action to be an attempt to stop companies violating US speech laws. “We are not seeking a settlement. Trump stated that he didn’t expect a settlement in his response to a question at the press conference. He suggested that companies could be held liable for damages of “potentially trillions” of dollars, a figure like which no one has ever seen.
It seems unlikely. On Twitter, attorney and legal writer Eric Goldman cited an upcoming paper that found courts almost invariably side with web platforms when users sue for being banned. Not only have conservative users been denied a lawsuit, but also those claiming discrimination based upon protected classes, such as the recently dismissed suit against Google in which several Black creators were accused of demonetizing and suppressing videos about race. Users have prevailed in rare cases where censorship is done not by platforms, but by government agencies and politicians using them, including Trump himself.
Trump’s latest lawsuits are more complex and confusing than many of these claims. These suits indicate that Facebook, Twitter and Google have become state actors due to their powerful platforms for hosting speech. Members of Congress also called them into hearings to ask them to remove certain categories of content including incitement to violence and false information.
Trump was removed from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube after he violated rules against incitement during riots that took place on January 6, which sought to end President Joe Biden’s win. This common practice, which the suits refer too as “legislative Coercion”, is not legal and cannot be used as a reason to punish companies.
Valentina holds a journalism degree from Moscow State University and started her career as an art critic covering the film industry and urban architecture.