WASHINGTON (CBS / AP) — Former President Donald Trump has filed suit against three of the country's biggest tech companies, claiming he and other conservatives have been wrongfully censored. But legal experts told KPIX 5 that his odds of winning in court are likely doomed.
Trump announced the action against Facebook, Twitter and Google's YouTube, along with the companies' CEOs, at a press conference in New Jersey on Wednesday. He was joined by other plaintiffs in the suits, which were filed in federal court in Miami.
"We're demanding an end to the shadow-banning, a stop to the silencing and a stop to the blacklisting, banishing and canceling that you know so well," he said.
Under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, social media platforms are allowed to moderate their services by removing posts that, for instance, are obscene or violate the services' own standards, so long as they are acting in "good faith." The law also generally exempts internet companies from liability for the material that users post.
But Trump and some other politicians have long argued that Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have abused that protection and should lose their immunity — or at least have to earn it by satisfying requirements set by the government.
Trump was suspended from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube after his followers stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6. The companies cited concerns that he would incite further violence.
Nonetheless, Trump has continued to spread lies about the 2020 election, baselessly claiming that he won, even though state and local election officials, his own attorney general and numerous judges, including some he appointed, have said there is no evidence of the mass voter fraud he alleges.
Facebook, Google and Twitter all declined comment Wednesday.
The suits argue that banning or suspending Trump and the other plaintiffs is a violation of the First Amendment, despite the fact that the companies are private. The suit against Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook acted unconstitutionally when it removed Trump from the platform. Suits against Twitter and YouTube make similar claims. All three ask the court to award unspecified damages, declare Section 230 unconstitutional and restore Trump's accounts, along with those of the other plaintiffs - a handful of others who have all had posts or accounts removed.
But Trump's lawsuits are likely doomed to fail, said Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University in California who has studied more than 60 similar, failed lawsuits over the past few decades that sought to take on internet companies for terminating or suspending users' accounts.
"Trump is attacking Section 230 based on a really kind of crazy theory," Goldman told KPIX 5. "That suggests it violates the Constitution because Congress never had the authority to give internet services the powers that they have. This argument has been tried before in court, it has failed, but it's actually really just crazy."
"There's no chance that these lawsuits will succeed in court. And I say that with confidence because there's actually been dozens of similar lawsuits have been failed over the years, and all of them have lost. And there's no reason to believe that this is going to be the magic one that succeeds in the light of dozens of other failures," Goldman went on to say.
Paul Barrett, Deputy Director of the Center For Business and Human Rights At New York University, told KPIX 5 that the suit will likely be dismissed by a judge.
"We do not require the private companies, whether they are a television station or network, a social media company, a traditional newspaper, what have you, none of those are obliged to facilitate or amplify the speech of anybody," said Barrett.
Goldman said it's likely Trump is instead pursuing the suits to garner attention. As president, Trump last year signed an executive order challenging Section 230.
"It was always about sending a message to their base that they're fighting on their behalf against the evil Silicon Valley tech giants," Goldman said.
Matt Schruers, the president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a tech industry trade group that includes Facebook, Twitter and Google, said internet companies have a right to enforce their terms of service.
"Frivolous class action litigation will not change the fact that users — even U.S. Presidents — have to abide by the rules they agreed to," he said in a statement.
© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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