In a meandering press conference, Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that he is suing Facebook, Twitter, and Google in response to the tech giants banning him or blocking him from posting on their respective platforms six months ago. “We’re asking the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to order an immediate halt to social media companies’ illegal, shameful censorship of the American people,” remarked Trump while speaking in front of reporters at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club. The former president’s personal Twitter account was shut down and he was suspended from posting on Facebook and Google-owned YouTube in the aftermath of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, due to the companies’ concerns that he might use their platforms to further incite violence.
Shortly after concluding his rambling remarks—aired live on pro-Trump channels Newsmax and One America News Network, and for the most part on Fox News—Trump began soliciting donations in the name of free speech. “BREAKING NEWS! President Trump is filing a LAWSUIT against Twitter and Facebook for UNFAIR CENSORSHIP! … Please contribute IMMEDIATELY,” read one such donation blast, while another call-to-action text campaign was written in the first person. “I am SUING Facebook & Twitter for UNCONSTITUTIONAL CENSORSHIP,” read the message to his supporters that linked to the Trump–GOP joint fundraising committee Save America.
During the presser, Trump listed his demands to the tech companies, which included putting “an end to the shadow banning, a stop to the silencing, a stop to the blacklisting, banishing, and canceling that you know so well.” (Never mind that right-wing news and opinion thrives on platforms like Facebook, with Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino often among the top performers.) “Our case will prove this censorship is unlawful,” he added. “It’s unconstitutional, and it’s completely un-American.” Trump said his class-action lawsuit not only names the three tech giants, but chief executives Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, and Jack Dorsey––whom he described as “three real nice guys.”
The former president advertised his filing as “the first of numerous other lawsuits” and said that it will seek punitive damages from the companies. “This is a very, very important game changer for our country. It will be a pivotal battle in the defense of the First Amendment and, in the end, I am confident that we will achieve a historic victory for American freedom and at the same time, freedom of speech,” he added. When asked by a reporter whether or not he will consider settling, Trump replied, “We’re not looking to settle. We don’t know what’s going to happen but we’re not looking to settle.”
Legal experts, however, weren’t impressed with Trump’s claims. “I think the lawsuit has almost no chance of success,” Vanderbilt University law professor Brian Fitzpatrick told CNBC, given that the companies are privately controlled and are not beholden to the same speech laws that public platforms are. “I think this is just a public relations lawsuit, and I’ll be honest with you, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends with sanctions against the lawyers for filing a frivolous lawsuit,” Fitzpatrick concluded. University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck recalled how Trump, as president, argued that his blocking of critics on Twitter didn’t violate the First Amendment.
As Columbia University’s Jameel Jaffer asked, ”In what constitution universe can it be the case that Trump wasn’t a state actor when he blocked critics from his social media accounts but the social media companies were state actors when they blocked him?” And George Conway, an anti-Trump conservative lawyer, tweeted, “I’ve skimmed former guy’s complaint against Facebook and it’s every bit as stupid as you’d think it is.” Legal arguments aside, Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of the few Republicans willing to stand up to Trump, brushed off the former president’s threats in a tweet: “Just a sad, little man.”
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