Former president Donald Trump on Wednesday filed three purported federal class action lawsuits against Facebook (FB), Google-owned YouTube (GOOG, GOOGL) and Twitter (TWTR) their respective CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, and Jack Dorsey.
According to Trump, the lawsuits are intended to stop the platforms from censoring speech and from removing user accounts. The three suits claim the tech giants violated the First Amendment's free speech protections, though the amendment protects against censorship by the government and not censorship by private companies.
“We’re asking the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to order an immediate halt to social media company’s illegal, shameful censorship of the American people,” Trump said at a press conference at his country club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
The suits are asking for unspecified monetary damages, and for Trump's accounts on all three services to be restored. In January, in response to the attack by mobs of Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol, Facebook instituted a temporary ban on the president’s account. The move was followed by a company decision in June to implement a two-year ban to be reevaluated in January 2023.
Twitter similarly banned the president from its platform, indefinitely, two days after the Capitol Hill riot. YouTube also suspended Trump's account the following week.
“If they can do it to me they can do it to anyone,” the former president said about his removal from the accounts.
'They're no longer private companies'
During Wednesday's press conference, John Coale, a lawyer for Trump and the prospective classes, said the the social media defendants qualify as government actors, obligating them to provide free speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.
“The real bottom line is Congress cannot delegate what it can’t do itself, and that’s what they’ve done,” Cole said of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a controversial law heavily targeted over the last two years by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
The law, considered foundational for the modern internet, protects websites from legal liability for third-party content posted to their sites, as well as from liability for moderating that content. Lawmakers have questioned whether it permits social media companies too much or too little freedom to regulate speech on their platforms.
The lawsuits each accuse the big tech defendants of "misguided reliance upon Section 230...and willful participation in joint activity with federal actors." In addition to claiming that the tech companies violated the First Amendment, the suits ask the court to declare Section 230 unconstitutional.
Trump and Cole said despite Section 230, the social media companies had overstepped their authority to police hosted content and remove accounts based on policies that ban hate speech, because only the Supreme Court is vested with authority to decide what qualifies as hate speech.
In response to a question asking how the lawsuit could challenge the right of private companies to be as liberal as they want, Trump said, “They’re no longer private companies.”
Trump said the lawsuit was being filed in conjunction with the America First Policy Institute, which is led by former Trump administration official Linda McMahon.
A website, takeonbigtech.com, has been established for information about the lawsuits. Currently the URL links to a website for the Constitutional Litigation Partnership arm for America First Policy Institute.
Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow Alexis on Twitter @alexiskweed.