Former US President Donald Trump filed class-action lawsuits on Wednesday against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, effectively escalating a lengthy battle between the real-estate mogul-turned-politician and Big Tech over censorship and free speech.
The latest development arrives on the heels of Twitter, Facebook, and Google-owned YouTube suspending Trump’s access to their platforms. While Twitter has permanently banned Trump, Facebook has said Trump’s ban will last for, at least, two years and YouTube has noted it would consider reinstating Trump’s presence once it was convinced no risk of violence would be borne out of that decision.
The lawsuits are a continuation of a trend that began during Trump’s presidency. The former president has relentlessly complained that social media companies had limited his right to freedom of expression – this even though he leveraged them significantly to expand his digital reach, especially via his Twitter handle.
Trump’s claims have been parroted particularly by Republicans who allege that Big Tech has an inherent anti-conservative bias. However, independent studies have not found any evidence of those claims, with some even finding right-wing voices to be some of the most engaged on the platforms.
Trump’s latest lawsuits argue that his suspensions violate the US Constitution’s first amendment. However, legal scholars have been quick to point out that the first amendment only applies to government censorship, and not to the regulation of content on private platforms.
The behavior of social media platforms is, in fact, guided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which permits them to moderate their services as long as they are deemed to be acting in ‘good faith.’ It also, in most cases, exempts social media companies from any liability borne out of the content their user’s post.
Given that the first amendment contention is the centerpiece of the lawsuits’ arguments, legal experts have expressed doubts that they will go very far, despite arriving at a moment when Big Tech is under the scanner for alleged anti-trust violations.
Instead, some observers have noted that they may serve a political purpose, enabling Trump to firstly, distract from an ongoing New York state investigation into his company’s alleged tax fraud, and secondly, act as a way for Trump to fundraise.
Less than an hour after Trump’s announcement, his team began sending out prompts for fundraising. The website recruiting parties for the class action lawsuits also includes a link to donate. The Republican National Committee, it bears mentioning, also sent out appeals to fundraise citing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit may also represent a way for Trump to regain his place in the limelight. Data indicate that, following his ousting from major social media platforms, his reach has been significantly reduced.
According to research from NewsWhip published in May, social media interactions surrounding the former president had dropped by 91 percent since January this year. Portraying himself as a champion of free speech then presents itself as a strategy to consolidate his support, with the former president expecting to make a charge for the presidency in 2024.