Former President Trump Sues Tech Companies

In the immediate aftermath of the January 6 insurrection and his failed attempts at stopping Congress from certifying the Presidential election, former President Trump was banned from the major social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which is owned by Google. The former President has made repeated and unsuccessful attempts to get back on those platforms. Now, he's turning to the legal system, suing the tech giants, and arguing that his rights were violated by being kicked off of those platforms.

The Background

The former President was banned after the incitful tweets and Facebook updates he sent out before and during the January 6 attacks, posts that were largely blamed for encouraging the violence. Facebook has punted making a decision on whether or not the ban is permanant until after the 2022 midterms, while Twitter has said that the ban is permanant and will not be removed - even if the former President runs for office again. Indeed, when former President Trump tried to subvert the 1/6 ban by using other Twitter accounts, those tweets were deleted. The ban on YouTube is also indefinite. 

The Basis of the Lawsuits

In the suits, the former President was joined by members of his America First non-profit. His legal argument essentially argues that the big tech companies are infringing upon his First Amendment rights by keeping him off of the networks. They ask the courts to order all three networks to require that the former President be reinstated on the networks. At the same time, they are also asking the courts to invalidate section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 - long a target of former President Trump - means that tech companies cannot be held responsible for the statements made by other users of their platform. Repealing the law would, in theory, make all tech companies significantly more liable to face lawsuits for the words said by others who used their platform. 

Odds of Success

Most objective commenters have said that the odds of having the former President faces steep odds in order to get these bans overturned, and many legal experts have said there is "zero chance" of the lawsuits actually succeeding, if they are filed. While First Amendment protections are generally robust in the United States, the First Amendment applies to governments and public spaces - not private companies. Furthermore, all three networks have established clear, content-neutral guidelines for their use, and past cases involving guidelines like these have typically found that social media companies can regulate their private space, provided the guidelines are content-neutral. The case can easily be made that the former President was removed from these networks because of his repeated violations of these guidelines, culminating in the 1/6 attacks and his violence-fueling commentary. 

Indeed, at least one legal expert specifically noted that, if such a lawsuit was filed, it would not only be thrown out, but the lawyers involved in filing such a lawsuit may face legal sanctions for filing such a frivolous lawsuit. After all, repeated court cases have found that the legal protections offered by the First Amendment are robust, but they are not absolute. 

It is worth noting that the lawsuit succeeding may not even be the point of the lawsuit. The former President generated significant press and media attention from the suits, holding a press conference that gained national attention at his Bedminster home. He also used the lawsuits for fundraising purposes, sending out fundraising texts and Emails after they were announced. The Republican National Committee did the same. All of this gave rise to speculation that the lawsuits are not actually meant to overturn the ban, but instead, be used as a tool for media generation and fundraising.

There is one final and important caveat: The lawsuits have not been filed yet but were merely announced at a press conference at the former President's country club. The former President has, in the past, threatened legal action, only to change his mind and ultimately not file any claim. It is thus possible that all of this was merely a publicity stunt, and that no lawsuit will be filed.

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