Donald Trump announced in a press conference Wednesday morning that he has filed lawsuits against the CEOs of Silicon Valley’s most powerful corporations: Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter.
Trump, who was banned from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, said that he is asking a Florida court to “order an immediate halt to social media companies’ illegal, shameful censorship of the American people.” Trump also seeks the immediate restoration of his social media accounts as well as payment of “punitive damages.”
The lawsuits, which are class actions, makes Trump the main litigant representing a broad array of social media users who have suffered because of social media moderation policies.
Donald Trump has plenty to be upset about when it comes to his deplatforming by Big Tech. Statistical analyses suggest that his online reach collapsed by more than 90 percent after he lost his accounts and that his attempts to rebuild his presence on the internet — such as with his blog — mostly fell flat. What Zuckerberg and Co. did to him was censorship by any other name.
Unfortunately, his big move against Silicon Valley has come too little, too late. A string of similar lawsuits filed by conservative activists, including Laura Loomer and Charles C. Johnson, have failed to make headway in recent years. Courts have repeatedly affirmed that the tech giants have the right to censor whomever they please — up to and including the president of the United States.
Trump’s perspective does find some support, most notably with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who recently wrote an opinion arguing that the major tech platforms could be conceived of as “common carriers” and compelled to obey First Amendment precedent on account of their “concentrated control of so much speech.”
For now, however, the pro–free speech position is in the minority in the courts, and conservatives lost their best chance to move the needle six months ago. So long as Trump was the president, he had the ability to act unilaterally to protect political speech on social media. He could, at the very least, have forced the debate over common carriers or Section 230 up to the Supreme Court. He also had the world’s largest megaphone and largely unified conservative support, and would even have had the tentative backing of some liberals such as Elizabeth Warren on the issue.
It wasn’t the case that Trump was particularly hesitant to deploy the powers of his office against private companies. His use of executive orders to crack down on TikTok came close to breaking the Chinese-owned social media app, leaving it in limbo until Biden reversed the orders last month. Despite being the more urgent threat to political speech in the U.S., however, Twitter and Facebook made it through Trump’s presidency unscathed.
Why did President Trump wait until he had ceded power to begin actually attacking the tech monopolies? It seems that even the man himself is not entirely sure. According to a statement issued by Trump last month after Nigeria banned Twitter, the former president considered a similar ban in the U.S. while he was in office, but he decided against it because “Zuckerberg kept calling me and coming to the White House for dinner telling me how great I was.” Now Zuck and his fellow CEOs are the ones running the show.
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