EXCLUSIVE: Author and former New York Times journalist Alex Berenson, who has sparred with Amazon in the past, feels that the company’s move to shut down Parler illustrates how dangerous it is that Big Tech can silence whomever it chooses.
Amazon Web Services' decision to shut down Parler in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot has sparked a passionate debate about what is actually protected by the First Amendment. The move came shortly after Twitter banned President Trump, but Berenson feels Amazon’s move to silence Parler is "the most dangerous thing that’s happened" in the aftermath of the Capitol riot.
"This is destroying a business," Berenson told Fox News. "You can argue about Trump’s comments and how incendiary they were and whether or not Twitter should have done that… but there is an argument on both sides there. Parler did nothing wrong. All the stuff on Parler you can find on Twitter and Facebook."
Berenson said he’s personally received death threats on Twitter so he doesn’t want to hear that hateful rhetoric is exclusive to Parler.
"These large social media outlets have a lot of nasty speech on them, period. If Parler’s version of events is believed, they were pretty responsive to Amazon," Berenson said. "Amazon effectively destroyed a functioning business in a matter of days and protected Twitter."
Parler is suing Amazon for its decision to sever ties, claiming the move is "motivated by political animus" and is both a breach of contract and an antitrust violation.
Amazon has maintained that it didn’t take action against Parler for political reasons.
"As we made clear in our public statements and legal filing, suspending Parler had nothing to do with politics. We suspended Parler because they were unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence," an Amazon Web Services spokesperson told Fox News.
Berenson called Amazon’s decision "very problematic" and isn’t even sure that the company that aimed to be a nonpartisan public square did anything wrong.
"It’s not clear what Parler’s offense was, I mean, this is not the dark web. This is not set up to sell drugs, this is a broad, free speech platform that has some negative stuff on it, as they all do. So it’s not clear what Parler’s offense was, aside from being a place where conservatives went to congregate," said Berenson, who has himself been subjected to Amazon’s antics.
Last summer, Berenson’s booklet on coronavirus, "Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 1," became the No. 1 best seller in Amazon’s Kindle Store after it was initially shunned by the online retailer.
Berenson, a vocal critic of the government's reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, was told that his booklet didn’t meet the company’s guidelines.
The former New York Times reporter quickly launched a protest on Twitter, calling the move "outrageous censorship from a company that gained hugely from lockdown" as millions are forced to shop online. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and other prominent journalists defended Berenson, and Amazon eventually allowed the book to be sold on its platform.
"It’s dangerous that all this power has accrued to a handful of companies, there is no question about that. And it’s not just free speech, it’s that the internet is so central, it’s the backbone of so many industries," he said. "For me, for example, if Amazon barred my book, that would be a huge problem for me. They might say, ‘OK, well you can sell it on your website,’ but what if the web host won’t host me? What if Square won’t process payments for me?"
Berenson hit another road block in November when the second installment of his booklet was released, as Amazon pulled it from its online store before reversing the decision. He feels that his First Amendment rights would no longer matter if Amazon could permanently prevent the sale of his book.
"I may theoretically have First Amendment rights, but if companies are starting to behave in overtly prejudicial ways based on the content of speech, that is a very dangerous moment. And on top of that, the second danger here, which is very very closely related to the first, is that people who should be guarding free speech, a lot of them are either neutral on this or in favor of it," Berenson said, noting that liberal media members at major outlets such as the Times and CNN have cheered censorship.
Berenson feels the tragic Capitol riot has "emboldened the left," allowing liberals in the media and Big Tech to get away with blatant attempts to silence conservatives.
"There is a lot of anger at Trump on the left, there is a lot of anger at conservatives from the left, and what happened revolted a lot of people, including a lot of Republicans, it angered a lot of people and provided cover for some very aggressive actions that may not look so great in a few months," Berenson said.
"We’re in a dangerous place."
As for Parler, chief executive officer John Matze’s company registered its domain with host sharing website Epik last week, following Amazon Web Services' decision to shut Parler down for failure to moderate "egregious content" related to the Capitol riot. Matze has maintained that his business won't be gone for long.
"I’m confident that by the end of the month, we’ll be back up," Matze told Fox News during a telephone interview Sunday night.