Judge sides with Amazon in dispute over Parler deplatforming
Free Speech | The conservative social media site remains homeless
by Steve West
Posted 1/22/21, 02:57 pm
Amazon doesn’t have to host conservative-friendly social media platform Parler while their dispute goes to court. U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, on Thursday rejected Parler’s request that the internet giant immediately restore web hosting services. Amazon banished the platform on Jan. 10 for allowing incendiary and violent posts.
Rothstein’s opinion was, if not final, unequivocal, and the events of Jan. 6 featured heavily in her decision: “The court explicitly rejects any suggestion that the balance of equities or the public interest favors obligating AWS [Amazon Web Services] to host the kind of abusive, violent content at issue in this case, particularly in light of the recent riots at the U.S. Capitol.”
Amazon argued it booted Parler from its services for breaching contract provisions requiring it to screen out violent and offensive content. But the blackout—which coincided with social media platforms banning President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots—raised perennial criticisms that Big Tech wields its monopolistic power to silence free speech.
In asking for the injunction, however, Parler did not make any free speech claims. Neither did Rothstein reference the issue in her opinion. Parler claimed Amazon broke its contract and violated federal antitrust laws by colluding with Twitter. Rothstein called the evidence for that claim “dwindlingly slight, and disputed.” She also rejected Parler’s argument that Amazon’s action interfered with other business contracts.
Attorneys for the two companies spent the entire Jan. 15 hearing arguing over whether Amazon had failed to give Parler 30-days’ notice before terminating the contract. But the judge pointed to a provision giving Amazon the right to end services immediately if Parler failed to moderate offensive content.
Amazon cited 15 examples of violent posts made on Parler since Nov. 17. In them, users called for the formation of militias to fight a civil war, the bloody killing of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in his home, shooting police in the head if they protect U.S. senators, and killing black and Jewish people “like our forefathers did.”
Parler’s website resurfaced recently—reportedly with the help of a Russian company—but its posts are unavailable and users can’t post new content. “We will resolve any challenge before us and plan to welcome all of you back soon,” the welcome page says. “We will not let civil discourse perish!”
Parler’s future is in doubt. CEO John Matzke in a court declaration held out little hope of finding an alternative host. He complained that Amazon’s “highly publicized break from our contractual relationship, when coupled with the toxic notoriety of massive hacking attacks, has driven away nearly all existing and prospective business relationships, including other hosting services that Parler had hoped to use.”
But given conservative clamor for a voice in the virtual town square, it is doubtful that the conservative-leaning company will stay down for long. Even though Amazon’s actions may be permissible, Regent University School of Law professor Brad Jacob said, they may not be wise. “I think they'd be smarter to let Parler go and let Trump post what he wants to post,” he said, adding that the answer to bad actors is a “robust marketplace where wiser actors can rebut them.”
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Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @slntplanet.