Trump to sue Facebook, Twitter, Google over alleged censorship, says they've 'ceased to be private'
Trump said social media companies 'ceased to be private' due to Section 230 liability protection
Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced that he will lead a lawsuit over alleged censorship against Twitter, Facebook and Google – three tech companies that removed him from their platforms after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of his supporters.
The lawsuit will be a class-action, with Trump as the lead plaintiff, claiming that he's been censored by the companies. He spoke about the legal action from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
"I stand before you this morning to announce a very important... development for our freedom and freedom of speech," Trump said. "In conjunction with the America First Policy Institute, I'm filing, as the lead class-action representative, a major class-action lawsuit against the big tech giants, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, as well as their CEOs."
"There is no better evidence that big tech is out of control than the fact that they banned the sitting president of the United States earlier this year," Trump added. "If they can do it to me they can do it to anyone."
Twitter, YouTube and Facebook each barred Trump over his false claims that the presidential election was stolen, alleging that he contributed to the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. YouTube is owned by Google.
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"After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them – specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter – we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence," Twitter wrote in a blog post about its decision.
But Republicans and Trump himself have maintained that these companies are unfairly censoring conservatives, pointing to international dictators who still can post on Twitter.
Trump said the lawsuit will be filed in the Southern District of Florida, seeking "injunctive relief" against "shameful censorship of the American people." There were three separate complaints filed in Miami federal court under Trump's name Wednesday, one against each of the social media giants.
"While the social media companies are officially private entities, in recent years they have ceased to be private with the enactment and their historical use of Section 230, which profoundly protects them from liability," Trump said. "It is in effect a massive government subsidy, these companies have been co-opted, coerced and weaponized by government actors to become the enforcers of illegal, unconstitutional censorship."
Trump called social media companies "the de facto censorship arm of the U.S. government."
He added that "this was especially clear during the pandemic," citing policies against contradicting health experts and the fact that those companies suppressed information alleging that the coronavirus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
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Shoshana Weissmann of the libertarian R Street Institute, which supports a robust reading of Section 230 to provide broad protections to tech companies, pushed back on Trump's comments. Weissmann said the idea that tech companies "benefiting from a law prevents them from being private is asinine."
"Government cannot wave a wand and say 'you're public now,'" she added. "The idea that this is a subsidy is also nowhere near the truth… And finally, government pressuring companies or companies taking cues from government entities also does not magically turn them into government actors."
"This is a full misunderstanding of how the law works," Weissmann said.
Trump's lawsuit is going to be led by the America First Policy Institute (AFPI), a nonprofit run by several allies and alumni from the Trump administration. AFPI President and CEO Brooke Rollins introduced Trump before the remarks Wednesday.
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"It's no surprise then that they want the First Amendment gone," Rollins said of "progressives" and "elites."
"They don't advocate for abolition... but they do advocate for curtailing it into meaninglessness. Nowhere is that more evident than in the suppression of First Amendment rights online," she continued.
AFPI's Pam Bondi, meanwhile, said the lawsuit isn't just for conservatives who believe they've been wronged, but also to protect others.
"This isn't just for conservatives, this is for our media... this is for Democrats and even progressives whose speech should be protected under the First Amendment," she said. "Do you remember that Tulsi Gabbard was censored when she was running for president?"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.