Trump says he will sue social media giants as he pines for lost platform
Donald Trump, the former US president, held a rambling press conference on Wednesday to announce legal action against Facebook, Twitter and Google, accusing the tech giants of censoring conservative voices.
Trump was once an irrepressible, agenda-setting force on social media but, in the wake of the 6 January insurrection, was banned from Twitter and suspended from Facebook until at least 2023 because of the risk of inciting further violence.
“We’re asking the US district court for the southern district of Florida to order an immediate halt to social media companies’ illegal, shameful censorship of the American people,” Trump said in the faux-presidential setting of blue lectern, white columns and a dozen US flags at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
“We’re demanding an end to the shadow banning, a stop to the silencing, a stop to the blacklisting, banishing and canceling that you know so well. Our case will prove this censorship is unlawful. It’s unconstitutional, and it’s completely un-American. We all know that. We know that very, very well,” he added.
Complaints of Silicon Valley censorship have become a familiar talking point on the political right but many of the most popular personalities on sites such as Facebook are conservatives, such as Dan Bongino and Ben Shapiro.
Even so, Trump said that, in conjunction with the new America First Policy Institute (AFPI) thinktank, he was filing a class action lawsuit against big tech giants including Facebook, Google and Twitter as well as their chief executives, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey.
“In addition, we are asking the court to impose punitive damages on these social media giants,” he continued during remarks that zigzagged through various subjects. “We’re going to hold big tech very accountable. This is the first of numerous other lawsuits, I assume, that would follow.
“But this is the lead, and I think it’s going to be a very, very important game changer for our country. It will be a pivotal battle in the defense of the first amendment and, in the end, I am confident that we will achieve a historic victory for American freedom and at the same time, freedom of speech.”
The lawsuit faces tough odds. Under a law known as Section 230, internet companies are generally allowed to moderate their content by removing posts that, for instance, are obscene or violate the services’ own standards, so long as they are acting in “good faith”.
But Trump and other Republicans have long argued that Twitter, Facebook and others have abused that protection and should lose their immunity. Last year Trump signed an executive order designed to limit Section 230 protections but Joe Biden revoked it in May.
Sceptics also noted that, during his long career, Trump has frequently announced lawsuits only to see them quietly fade away before reaching court.
On Wednesday he introduced several individuals he claimed had been “illegally banned or silenced” and were joining the class lawsuit. He suggested there would be thousands more who feel aggrieved at being censored. “This will go down as the biggest class action ever filed,” was Trump’s wild prediction.
“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, a ban that continues to this day. It continues. Still we get the word out, but it’s not a fair situation.
“Very, very bad for this country, very bad for the world. If they can do it to me, they can do it to anyone and, in fact, that is exactly what they’re doing. They’re taking people off who don’t even realise they were taken off.”
Pam Bondi, a lawyer and Trump ally who is at the AFPI, claimed the lawsuit was on behalf of every American.
Trump took a few questions from reporters, including one about his role in the insurrection. He described it as an “unfortunate event” but said Congress had recently produced a report and “my name wasn’t even mentioned”, even though it was.
He also complained that many of his supporters had been unfairly treated.
Deprived of his social media mouthpiece, Trump frequently issues statements by email and has recently resumed campaign rallies, using them to push his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman who voted for Trump’s impeachment after 6 January, tweeted in response to Wednesday’s announcement: “Just a sad, little man.”