Former President Donald Trump’s lawsuit against Facebook, Twitter, and Google (and their CEOs) is another meritless claim that should be filed in the same trash can with his many lawsuits over the 2020 election.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Florida’s southern district, is a class action claiming that the social networks violated the free speech rights of Trump and others by closing their accounts. Trump was bounced from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube after he helped incite the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
“We’re demanding an end to the shadow-banning, a stop to the silencing and a stop to the blacklisting, banishing and canceling that you know so well,” Trump said at a news conference at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf course, AP reports.
Trump called the lawsuit “a very beautiful development for our freedom of speech.”
But the First Amendment, as Trump’s counsel knows, is written to protect citizens from being silenced by the government, not from private companies that have their own free speech rights.
“Trump’s suit is DOA,” says Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. “The First Amendment applies to government censorship or speech regulation. It does not stop private sector corporations from regulating content on their platforms.”
“Facebook and Twitter themselves have a First Amendment free speech right to determine what speech their platforms project and amplify—and that right includes excluding speakers who incite violence, as Trump did in connection with the January 6 Capitol insurrection,” Barrett adds.
The lawsuit is very likely a performance for Trump’s base. Many Republicans rally around the group persecution fantasy that social media companies conspire to silence “conservative” voices. But, as in their claim that the 2020 election was “stolen,” Trump and his supporters have produced precious little evidence to back up this assertion. (Independent studies have also found little truth to the claim.)
The suit also reprises another tired legal argument, first expressed by Trump in a presidential executive order (now reversed), that because social media companies make content moderation decisions (such as to cancel harmful accounts), they don’t deserve the protections from lawsuits over user-created content provided in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
“It’s a liability protection the likes of which nobody in the history of our country has ever received,” Trump said Wednesday.
Section 230 does provide some immunity from lawsuits over harms caused by user-generated content, but it also protects social networks from lawsuits from people who believe they were harmed when their content was removed by moderators.
Republicans have been busy trying to pass laws against social media content moderation rights at the state level.
In May Republican Florida governor Ron DeSantis championed, then signed, a new law that would penalize social media companies for blocking posts from politicians. The law was set to go into effect this Thursday, but U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida issued an injunction against the law going into effect and predicted it would be found unconstitutional because it denies social media companies the right to moderate content.