Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Former President Donald Trump is once again proving he’ll do just about anything to stay in the news.
On Wednesday, Trump filed “class-action” lawsuits against Facebook, Twitter, and Google over claims that he has been wrongfully censored by these private companies. The suits accuse the three tech companies of violating Trump’s First Amendment rights and behaving like “state actors.”
The 1st Amendment to our Constitution applies to government censorship or speech regulations; it does not apply to private companies. In fact, Facebook and Twitter have a 1st Amendment free speech right to determine what speech their platforms project and amplify, including the exclusion of speakers who incite violence, as Trump clearly has done. Furthermore, users must agree to their terms of service to use their products.
The lawsuit also requests that the court declare Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act unconstitutional. Under Section 230, social media platforms are allowed to moderate their services by removing posts that, for instance, are obscene or violate the provider’s own standards, so long as they are acting in “good faith.” The 1996 law also states that online sites primarily are not legally responsible for what their users post.
“Our case will prove this censorship is unlawful, unconstitutional, and completely un-American,” says Trump.
Here again, Trump has it all wrong. He (and, apparently, his lawyers) should read the first line of the 1st Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, . . . “
Privately held social media companies have a constitutional right to determine what speech their platforms allow and refuse. That right includes excluding those who incite violence, as Trump did with the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
These frivolous lawsuits are just another Trump publicity stunt. They will very shortly, be dismissed. Aside from the obvious lack of 1st Amendment protection, these “lawsuits’ have additional problems:
1. Plaintiffs and attorneys do not “announce” class action filings; they seek class action status from the judge who determines whether to allow the case to proceed.
2. The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Florida. However, Facebook’s terms of service require that “any claim, cause of action, or dispute you have against us” be filed in federal court in northern California or San Mateo County state Court. Twitter’s terms require that “all disputes related to these Terms or the Services will be brought solely in the federal or state courts located in San Francisco County.”
3. Dozens of similar lawsuits have been summarily dismissed, despite Trump’s claim to the contrary.
So what’s the deal?
Well, aside from keeping his name in the news for the cost of a court filing fee, Trump may also be seeking to create a distraction. He has serious legal and political problems ( all of his own making) like multiple criminal and politicial investigations into the January 6th insurrection prompted by his own words and actions, as well as the ongoing New York state investigation and recent indictment of his company for tax fraud.
These lawsuits are DOA (dead on arrival), plain and simple.
The most serious issue presented by these lawsuits is: How in the heck did he find a lawyer willing to file them? Were I the judge deciding the merits of these filings, I would not merely dismiss the cases, I would mete out severe sanctions against the lead plaintiff (Trump) and his attorneys for bringing forth claims so outrageous and frivolous that they waste the court’s time and the taxpayers’ money.
I would say “shame on him” but Trump has proven, time and again, that he has no shame.
Mark M. Bello, a trial lawyer, is the author of “Betrayal of Justice" and other ‘ripped from the headlines’ Zachary Blake Social Justice Legal Thrillers available on Amazon.com and other online booksellers. For more information, please visit www.markmbello.com.