At a press announcement at his Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey, former President Donald Trump unveiled lawsuits filed in Florida against the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google to restore his accounts on the social networks they operate. Trump was removed from the platforms after inciting a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 20201.
The reaction from experts on First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act- two of the statutes mentioned in the lawsuit- has been swift.
“This is even more stupid than I expected,” wrote Ari Cohn, free speech counsel at the tech policy think thank Tech Freedom. Indeed, the suits appear to be based on shaky reasoning, to contain a variety of drafting errors, and to have been filed in the wrong jurisdiction.
“This lawsuit is a stunt and it’s unlikely to find traction in the courts,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, in a statement. “The argument here that Facebook should be considered a state actor is not at all persuasive. It’s also difficult to square the arguments in the lawsuit with President Trump’s actions in office. The complaint argues that legislators coerced Facebook into censoring speech, but no government actor engaged in this kind of coercion more brazenly than Trump himself.”
“Trump has the First Amendment argument exactly wrong,” said 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. In fact, 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.”
“Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t work for the government, Jack Dorsey doesn’t work for the government,” Eric Goldman, professor of law at Santa Clara University School of Law and the co-director of the High Tech Law Institute, told The New York Times. “The idea that somehow, magically, we can treat them as an extension of the government is illogical.”
“There is an important debate to be had about what kinds of obligations the First Amendment may impose on private actors that have so much influence over public discourse, and about how much leeway the First Amendment gives to Congress to regulate the activities of those private actors,” said the Knight First Amendment Institute’s Jaffer. “But this complaint is not likely to add much to that debate.”
It may, however, fill the coffers of the Trump campaign and other entities associated with the lawsuit, which are already fundraising off the back of it.2461b9b5-69db-452a-b3b7-25a89366376f
Donald Trump’s doomed lawsuit against Facebook
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.