In the immediate wake of the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, all of the major social media platforms — including Facebook — moved to ban or suspend then-President Donald Trump over what they claimed was his role in the unrest.
Trump had already filed class-action lawsuits against the platforms over claims of censorship, but now, The Daily Wire reports that the former president has filed another suit specifically seeking an injunction against Facebook and the reinstatement of his access to his account on that service and its subsidiary, Instagram.
The crux of Trump’s suit is that Facebook has worked on behalf of and with the encouragement of government actors to violate and cause “irreparable harm” to his First Amendment right to free speech.
“This preliminary injunction against Facebook seems appropriate to file this week since they’ve been big in the news lately for all the issues they’re facing,” John Coale, an attorney representing Trump in this lawsuit, told the Washington Examiner.
“You can’t have it both ways”
Later in his statement to the Examiner, Coale cited remarks from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself.
In a 2019 “note” posted by Zuckerberg himself, the Big Tech mogul described the platform as the “digital equivalent of a town square” in which everyone has an equal opportunity to speak and be heard.
“Zuckerberg and Facebook say it’s the 21st-century public town square; if so, they should uphold the First Amendment,” Coale said. “You can’t have it both ways. They’re like a public utility when it comes to speech.”
“All the way up”
Trump’s 38-page suit argues that Facebook’s indefinite suspension of his account constitutes an unlawful suppression of and “prior restraint” against his First Amendment rights, given that Facebook’s actions, the suit claims, were coerced by certain government actors who were otherwise prohibited from censoring Trump’s speech.
In addition to violating Trump’s federal right to free speech, the suit also argues that Facebook’s actions violated Florida state statutes prohibiting social media censorship.
The filing also alleges that the liability immunity granted to tech companies like Facebook by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 is inapplicable in this particular case.
The suit says Facebook’s actions, if not rectified, will cause “irreparable harm” to Trump by “cutting him off from the most effective and direct forms of communication with potential voters” as well as “threatening irreparable damage to the Republican Party’s prospects in the 2022 and 2024 elections.”
“We expect this to go all the way up to the Supreme Court,” Coale told the Examiner, “and they can decide what is free speech, what can be censored, and who gets to decide what is and isn’t allowed online.”