Former President Donald Trump has sued Alphabet Inc’s Facebook, Twitter and Google and their chief executives, raising the stakes in his fight against the social media giants who banned him.
After describing the effort during a press conference Wednesday as a move to defend First Amendment rights, Trump filed three separate class actions in federal court in Florida against tech giants Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sundar Pichai of Google.
The lawsuits seek court orders to restore his social media accounts, along with punitive damages, to ensure that other users are not banned or flagged by the tech giants. The legal team is led by John B. Qualy, a trial attorney involved in lawsuits against major tobacco companies.
“We’re going to hold very big technology to account,” Trump said during the press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “If they can do it to me, they can do it to anyone.”
Twitter permanently banned Trump in January for his role in fanning the mob that attacked the US Capitol on January 6 in a deadly riot to stop President Joe Biden’s Electoral College vote count. Facebook said last month that Trump would remain suspended from its networks for at least two years, with a possible reinstatement in 2023 if the risks to public safety subside.
YouTube, Google’s video service giant, also suspended Trump’s account in the wake of the January 6 riots. The former president’s videos are still accessible, but he is not allowed to post new videos. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said the company will reverse its policy when it determines that “the risk of violence has decreased,” without providing details.
Facebook, Google and Twitter declined to comment on the lawsuits, which were criticized by tech-funded defense groups. NetChoice, whose membership includes Amazon and other technology companies, said the action showed a “deliberate misunderstanding of the First Amendment” and was unfounded.
“President Trump has no issue,” NetChoice CEO Steve Delbianco said in a statement. “The First Amendment is designed to protect the media from the president, not the other way around.”
Trump is seeking to repeal a federal law that protects Internet companies from liability for content posted by users. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects social media platforms from lawsuits accusing them of unfairly removing posts or accounts, among other legal challenges. The government’s First Amendment prohibits forcing tech companies to leave or delete certain categories of posts.
In the lawsuits, Trump argues that liability protections under Section 230 mean that social media companies must be considered government actors who can be sued.
Trump’s banishment by major tech platforms has reignited Republican calls to repeal the legal shield, arguing that it has enabled social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to censor conservative views.
The lawsuits are not the first time Trump has targeted Section 230. While in office, he tried to persuade Congress to repeal Section 230 by threatening to veto a Defense Department spending bill. Democrats have also proposed bills to reduce the legal shield to encourage tech companies to more aggressively rid their programs of bigotry, abuse and harassment.
Tech companies have largely resisted changes to the law, fearing that the proliferation of lawsuits will force them to clamp down on free user-generated content. However, both Zuckerberg and Dorsey have expressed openness in recent months to Section 230 reforms.
Without access to the broad reach that the social media giants allow, Trump has struggled to maintain his online presence. He has shut down his blog-like site From the Desk of Donald J. Trump, although he frequently sends out several press releases daily – often targeting fellow Republicans he thinks are insufficiently loyal.
Trump recently ramped up his public activism by resuming rallies and making a trip to the southern US border last week to criticize Biden’s immigration policies. He supports candidates in the 2022 midterm elections and actively opposes others. He also raised the possibility of running for president again in 2024.
The former president joked that he would launch a new platform that she could not remove. “There are a lot of platforms, that’s what we’re looking for, getting the right platform, the perfect platform, and I think you’ll see something soon,” he said on Dave Rubin Report’s podcast “Rubin Report” on June 25.
During his presidency, Trump has used Twitter for everything from insulting rivals to major policy advertisements, and has relied on Facebook in particular to raise money from small donors.
A federal judge blocked a law in Florida that prevents social media platforms from suspending political candidates’ accounts earlier this month. Likening the state law to “burning the house to roast a pig,” U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee said the legislation, passed by a Republican legislature and a priority of Governor Ron DeSantis, violates businesses’ rights to free speech.
The case is: Trump et al v Twitter Inc et al, 21-cv-22441, US District Court, Southern District of Florida (Miami).