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Justice Dept. Intervenes Against Trump In Lawsuit Against Social Media Giants

November 23, 2021 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department intervened this week in a lawsuit former President Donald Trump filed against social media companies Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube.

Trump accuses the companies of violating his First Amendment right to free speech by banning his postings after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump’s lawsuit also attacks a federal regulation that gives the companies control over information third parties post on their websites. The lawsuit argues that section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 is unconstitutional.

The Justice Department’s court filing says that because Trump is suing based on federal law, the government has a right to intervene.

“The United States has an unconditional statutory right to intervene ‘[i]n any action . . . wherein the constitutionality of any Act of Congress affecting the public interest is drawn in question[.],’” the government’s court filing says while citing federal law.

Even before Trump filed his lawsuit, Section 230 fell under criticism in Congress and in the courts.

Critics of the social media companies say it allows them to control the information accessed by hundreds of millions of people daily but shields them from liability when they make poor choices. They have been accused of censorship by Trump and other conservatives.

President Joe Biden has called for Section 230 to be revoked. He also said that without better regulation of content, social media sites sometimes allow misinformation to be transmitted.

A recent example emerged when the first COVID-19 vaccines became available late last year. Anti-vaxxers incorrectly posted information on Facebook and Twitter saying they were dangerous and unnecessary, potentially frightening away people who later became infected and died.

The Big Tech companies say eliminating Section 230 would expose them to unending lawsuits. 

The result could be court-ordered content that violates First Amendment rights of the media, company executives said during recent congressional hearings. It also could force companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google out of business.

Trump seeks a court order that would restore his social media accounts as well as giving him punitive damages. The lawsuit was originally filed in federal court in Florida but the companies convinced a judge to switch it to California.

The lawsuit also names chief executive officers Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sundar Pichai of Google and Alphabet as defendants.

They argue in court filings that Trump’s class action lawsuit lacks merit because the First Amendment provisions he accuses them of violating apply to government entities, not private corporations.

The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

Facebook and Twitter argue that they were not trying to curtail his free speech but to prevent further violence. Trump incited his supporters minutes before the Jan. 6 insurrection by saying voter fraud created a “rigged election” that gave the presidency to Biden.

Tom can be reached at [email protected].

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