Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Royal Alexander: Trump sues social media giants

by BIZ Magazine

The time has come to consider expanding the scope of the First Amendment to cover these huge and powerful entities that have—hiding behind a powerful federal law—completely redefined the landscape of human communication.

President Trump this week filed a class action lawsuit against tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google asserting that he is the victim of their censorship.

We may recall that Mr. Trump was banned from his social media accounts in January over so-called “public safety” concerns on the heels of the Capitol protest on January 6th. In a statement regarding the suit, Mr. Trump declared that “we are demanding an end to the shadow banning, a stop to the silencing, and a stop to the blacklisting, banishing and cancelling that you know so well.”

If these tech giants can censor a president (and thousands of prominent conservative social media accounts), they can censor you and me, which explains why millions of Americans trust neither the national media nor social media.

The allegations in the suit will be easy to support because the examples of censorship are abundant:

Recall that the New York Post, one of the oldest and largest newspapers in the world, broke a story prior to last year’s presidential election regarding the discovery of credible evidence in the form of emails revealing that Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, clearly leveraged his dad’s then-position as Vice President by gaining favors from his dad that benefited the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. There was also evidence that the then-presidential candidate himself was directly involved in and profited from the arrangement. Suppress and silence.

In fact, a poll after the election revealed that one in six (17%) of Biden voters would not have voted for him had they known about even one of the news stories that were suppressed by big tech and the social media platforms. Some of these stories include former Biden staffer Tara Reade and her sexual assault allegations against Biden, the Hunter Biden laptop scandal, then-Senator Kamala Harris’s Leftist voting record in the Senate, the U.S.’s economic jump in the third quarter with millions of new jobs added, America’s energy independence, Operation Warp Speed covid vaccination success, and Trump’s achievement of multiple peace deals in the Middle East. Suppress and silence.

As I have previously, let me again make clear that I realize that as so-called “private” companies, Twitter, Facebook, and Google are not restricted by the First Amendment, which is a restraint on government actors. But the truth is these tech giants are really not private companies in the traditional sense because they enjoy an enormous and lucrative federal benefit: immunity from legal liability for defamatory content that may be posted on their sites by third parties. This benefit is contained in Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, and it is a game changer. (I note that if the U.S. Supreme Court ever does deem Facebook, Google, and Twitter to be “state” or “government” actors and, therefore, subject to the 1st Amendment’s prohibition on the suppression of free speech, their censorship policies will be deemed unconstitutional and struck down).

Big Tech has demonstrated a clear ideological (Leftist) bias, and Congress and regulators should take steps soon to ensure that the great legal and economic benefits these social media platforms were given in 1996—when these fledgling companies promised to be fair and impartial clearinghouses of all speech and content—are curtailed until a marketplace of ideas truly returns. They shouldn’t be allowed to selectively censor.

Social media in America has truly become to freedom of speech and freedom of expression what public parks, radio, newspapers, television stations and neighborhood pamphleteering were in decades past. As such, powerful, private, unregulated but legally insulated actors like these social media giants are just as capable of censorship as a public one. This is why the U.S Supreme Court has generally held that Congress may not use private actors to accomplish something (i.e., censorship) the Constitution prohibits Congress from doing itself.

I don’t know if President Trump’s lawsuit will succeed because these companies will claim they are private actors and can choose what speech and expression they allow on their sites. However, whether it succeeds or not it will bring much needed scrutiny to the legal status and immunity from legal liability these behemoth companies unfairly enjoy and that will hopefully lead to a change in federal law on this issue.

Royal Alexander is a Shreveport attorney.

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