Former President Donald Trump said Wednesday he is suing the leadership of Facebook, Google and Twitter for banning him from their social media platforms.
Speaking from Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, the former president said he wants the federal judiciary to intervene and restore his access to his accounts on the sites.
“Today in conjunction with the America First Policy Institute, I’m filing as the lead class representative, a major class-action lawsuit against the Big Tech giants including Facebook, Google and Twitter as well as their CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey,” Mr. Trump said. “Three real nice guys. 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 and that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
Mr. Trump said he wants the court to impose punitive damages on the tech platforms and described his class-action litigation as the first of numerous other lawsuits that could follow.
“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 said.
The former president also argued that the companies had been “co-opted, coerced, and weaponized by government” to become the enforcers of illegal censorship.
Mr. Trump‘s lawsuit against Facebook argued that the tech company acted as a government actor out of fear of a legislative crackdown.
“Defendant Facebook has increasingly engaged in impermissible censorship resulting from threatened legislative action, a misguided reliance upon Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230, and willful participation in joint activity with federal actors,” read Mr. Trump‘s complaint filed against Facebook. “Defendant Facebook’s status thus rises beyond that of a private company to that of a state actor. As such, Defendant is constrained by the First Amendment right to free speech in the censorship decisions it makes regarding its Users.”
Google and Twitter declined to comment. Facebook did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Twitter, Facebook and Google are all private companies, and users must agree to their terms of service to use their products. Under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, social media platforms are allowed to moderate their services by removing posts that, for instance, are obscene or violate the services’ own standards, so long as they are acting in “good faith.” The law also generally exempts internet companies from liability for the material that users post.
Mr. Trump‘s effort is being supported by the America First Policy Institute, a conservative think tank formed this year to make Mr. Trump‘s policy agenda the guide for Republicans in D.C. and policymakers nationwide to follow. Former White House domestic policy council director Brooke Rollins leads the institute and said earlier this year the organization had 40 staffers working in Washington and had plans for offices in Florida, New York City and Texas.
“President Trump often remarked that if Big Tech is out to get him, it’s because they’re out to get the American people — and he was just standing in the way. The actions of the Big Tech firms we’re taking to court illustrate the point perfectly,” Ms. Rollins said in a statement. “What they’ve done, what they’ve wrought in the past few years staggers the imagination. All Americans need Donald Trump to win — not for what it will mean for him, but for what it will mean for every American man, woman and child.”
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The American Conservative Union said Wednesday that it would join Mr. Trump‘s litigation alongside other right-leaning organizations.
“This lawsuit will break the stranglehold Big Tech has over our freedom to speak,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, in a statement.
Mr. Trump‘s lead counsel in the litigation is scheduled to speak at an American Conservative Union gathering in Dallas this weekend, according to the group.
But Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University in California, says the lawsuits likely will fail. Mr. Goldman has studied more than 60 losing lawsuits that took on internet companies for terminating or suspending users’ accounts.
“They’ve argued everything under the sun, including First Amendment, and they get nowhere,” Mr. Goldman said. “Maybe he’s got a trick up his sleeve that will give him a leg up on the dozens of lawsuits before him. I doubt it.”
The free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute argued that Mr. Trump’s litigation is not serious.
“These social media platforms are private property, not the government town square, and are well within their First Amendment rights to refuse to carry speech of third parties. This principle holds even with the former President of the United States and is the constitutional right of every citizen. This lawsuit is a publicity stunt intended for political gain, not a serious legal argument,” said Jessica Melugin, director of the think tank’s Center for Technology and Innovation.
Media Matters for America, a liberal opponent of Mr. Trump, also labeled it a publicity stunt.
Indeed, Mr. Trump’s political action committee was fundraising off the announcement Wednesday.
Chamber of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich, a veteran Democratic aide and Google alumnus, indicated he hoped Mr. Trump‘s litigation blunted legislative efforts to crack down on tech companies. Mr. Kovacevich’s group has listed Facebook, Google and Twitter as its partners.
“A reminder for Democrats: Trump‘s attacks on Section 230 are a good sign that Section 230 helps makes [sic] the internet better,” Mr. Kovacevich tweeted.
Mr. Trump has recently taken other steps to chart his digital return, and his supporters are creating alternatives to prominent tech platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as well. Mr. Trump joined Rumble, a video platform rivaling YouTube, in June, and Mr. Trump‘s supporters have boosted GETTR, as a social network alternative to platforms such as Twitter.
• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.