Seeking to collect cash, cling to his following and draw attention, Donald Trump told an hour-long news conference Wednesday he will be the lead plaintiff in a class action suit against tech giants Twitter, Facebook, and Google as well as their chief executive officers (Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai).
Trump is striking out at those who banned him after his role inciting the mob of terrorists who invaded the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, assaulted Capitol Police, terrorized members of Congress, and chanted “Hang Pence”, naming Trump’s own vice president. The mob sought to halt Congress’ count of electoral votes that put Joe Biden in the White House. Pence was serving as presiding officer.
“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,” said Trump.
“If they can do it to me, they can do it to anyone.”
Trump is banned, permanently from Twitter – his chief platform, used to fire Cabinet secretaries during his administration – and is barred from Facebook for at least two more years. The former occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives for his actions as inciter-in-chief.
Trump is a litigious guy, but with a record of rarely following through on ballyhooed lawsuits. He is charging that big tech has censored he and others on the far right with biased policies. But he has furnished no evidence to support the claim. While saying Trump’s First Amendment rights have been denied, the suit makes no similar claim about the tech companies’ barring of pornography or Russian and Chinese disinformation claims.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Southern Florida. The Sunshine State became Trump’s legal residence in 2019, after he abandoned New York.
However, the terms of service for both Facebook and Twitter say that the venue for any legal disputes shall be the California courts, state and federal.
Trump drove up cable television ratings through the 2016 campaign and much of his presidency. Nowadays, however, his nimbus may be wearing thin.
CNN and MSNBC did not broadcast his news conference, held at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf course. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox propaganda channel cut away as Trump launched into an hour-long recitation of grievances and denunciation of “Democrat-led cities.” Only Newsmax stayed with him.
The lawsuit does offer Trump an opportunity to cash out.
A “Save America” fundraising blast went out, saying “President Trump is filing a lawsuit against Facebook and Twitter for unfair censorship. For the next hour, we’ve activated a 5X Impact on all gifts.” Trump supporters were offered the opportunity “to get your name on the donor list that President Trump sees.”
(Like Tim Eyman money raising appeals here in Washington State, come-ons from Trump feature lots of capital letters and hyperbole.)
The class action suit is being backed and handled by the America First Policy Institute, a front set up by Trump supporters after he left office.
The filing is nothing if not ambitious. It demands that the tech giants hand over punitive damages to the twice-impeached president and restore his accounts.
It also asks the federal courts throw out Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act as “an unconstitutional delegation of authority.”
Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are not private technology companies but actually arms of the federal government, or so argues the complaint, because they have worked with public officials and agencies (e.g. the Centers for Disease Control) to formulate policies on misinformation. The firms’ “status thus rises beyond that of a private company to that of a state actor” in the reasoning of Trump law.
“This lawsuit is a stunt, and it’s unlikely to find traction in the courts,” Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, told the Daily Beast.
As usual, Trump wants everything he does to be seen in the context of size. The suit against big tech will “go down as the biggest class action ever filed because thousands of people want to join,” Trump claimed Wednesday.
Even in filing a class action lawsuit, however, Trump lacks class.