Yesterday in front of his stately clubhouse in Bedminster, NJ, former President Donald Trump formally launched a legal and political battle to stop Big Tech’s assault on free speech. President Trump announced that he has filed a class action lawsuit against Twitter, Facebook, and Google—and their CEOs—to put an end to what he described as unconstitutional censorship of protected political speech on their platforms.
Trump serves as the lead class representative on the lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The suit asks the technology giants to stop political censorship of users, and as well as impose punitive damages and the option for the former president to restore his social media accounts. The legal effort is being spearheaded by John Coale, a prominent lawyer in Washington, D.C.
Trump, along with Coale, his legal team, and representatives from AFPI, held a press conference Wednesday morning to outline details of the case and spell out the dangers posed by Big Tech companies to the free speech rights of all Americans.
Brooke Rollins, AFPI’s president, said on Wednesday that Twitter, Facebook, and Google now effectively make up the American public square: where ideas are born, opinions are expressed, and thoughts are freely and openly exchanged. Since the American Founding, speaking freely—whether in person, in writing, or online—has been a fundamental part of the American tradition, harkening all the way back to the ratification of the First Amendment in 1791. “From the very beginning of our nation, freedom of speech has always been understood as a bedrock of our liberty,” Trump said in his remarks Wednesday.
But as the former President indicated, Big Tech has failed to live up to its duty of preserving the timeless American tradition of free speech—and in doing so, it has forfeited the trust of the American people and undermined confidence in American democracy.
Trump acknowledged that although social media platforms are formally private companies with the legal prerogative to control their platforms as they see fit, in recent years, they have effectively become public companies as they have taken advantage of Congressionally granted legal protections under Section 230 to censor voices that do not align with their political worldview.
Section 230 was codified into law by Congress in 1996 as part of the Communications Decency Act, and initially rested on the logic that social media platforms are indeed platforms tasked with maximizing “user control over what information is received by individuals, families, and schools.” Its controversial immunity provision maintains that social media platforms are not held legally liable for content shared by their users.
Yet, as President Trump indicated in his remarks, these platforms have abused these protections and routinely exercised editorial judgments in arbitrarily determining what speech to allow and what speech to forbid. Big Tech, he stated, is “working with government, the mainstream media, and a large segment of a political party, to silence and suppress the views of the American People.”
Also joining Trump at the announcement was a small group of Americans who have experienced the overreaches of Big Tech firsthand, including a Michigan schoolteacher whose Facebook account was deactivated for sharing content questioning the efficacy of masks for children. Also present were Kiyan and Bobby Michael, Angel Parents whose son was killed by a twice-deported illegal alien in a road collision. They were banned from Twitter after sharing their experiences and speaking out against illegal immigration.
Because of these platforms’ now-outsized role in the restriction of speech and content online, Coale and his legal team are seeking to prove that they have positioned themselves as government actors. Coale reiterated that the flow of information in American society ought not be controlled by “a couple guys out in California,” and asked the Supreme Court to intervene. The Court, Coale noted, has a long and steady history of preserving First Amendment rights and preventing non-government actors from carrying out de facto government responsibilities.
If successful in Court, the suit could diminish or possibly eliminate social media companies’ Section 230 protections altogether. It could also force the platforms to reinstate Trump’s access to the platforms, which he said on Wednesday that he may or may not use should he regain control of his accounts.
The fight to preserve “the American people’s birthright of freedom,” in President Trump’s words, is notably not a partisan effort. Democrat Senator and former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has repeatedly expressed support for regulations against social media giants, saying she hopes to “rein in the unfettered power of Big Tech.” Additionally, a poll released by Scott Rasmussen in July indicates a majority of Americans share concerns about the growing power of these platforms: 63 percent of Americans believe Big Tech should be required to abide by the First Amendment guarantee of free speech, and 68 percent of Americans believe social media companies should guarantee the fair treatment of every citizen over protecting their own interests.
From the days of the American Founding 245 years ago, the American people and their government have always recognized free speech to be an indispensable component of our democracy, as Trump noted yesterday. With legal fights like this one and continued legislative efforts on the state and local levels, the nationwide movement to rein in Big Tech and restore free speech rights is only just beginning.
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