Big tech in legal crosshairs

 Just the News:

Amid a Big Tech crackdown on conservative-leaning social media content and users, legal experts say such firms are exposing themselves to potential legal challenge across several broad fronts, including antitrust action for collusion, revocation of Section 230 liability shields, and shareholder suits breach of fiduciary duty.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Jan. 13 issued civil investigative demands (CIDs) to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Web Services, and Apple, asking the companies for their policies and practices regarding content moderation and, more specifically, for information related to Parler, a social media application popular among conservatives that was recently terminated or blocked by Google, Amazon, and Apple.

Parler had become a popular alternative to Twitter, particularly among conservatives and followers of former President Trump, whose own Twitter account was permanently suspended by the platform earlier this month for content purportedly violating its rules.

Amazon on Jan. 11 removed Parler from its web-hosting service, five days after the U.S. Capitol Building was breached, arguing in court filings that the suspension was a "last resort" to keep the app from being a conduit for violent plans to disrupt the presidential transition, which occurred Jan. 20. 

"To take an entire platform down because the platform had the president on it is clearly something that affects free speech in this country and affects competition," Paxton told "Just the News AM" television show. "We want to get to the bottom of this and understand what their policies are, what the plan is for the future, and whether people are going to have the ability to speak in this country, or whether these tech companies are going to limit speech based on your views."

On Thursday, a federal judge denied Parler's request to have Amazon immediately restore its web service, saying she rejects "any suggestion that the public interest favors requiring AWS to host the incendiary speech."

Paxton said additional questions should be asked about whether the tech giants were engaging in monopolistic competition or violating antitrust law. Although "statistically, it's possible that all five of these companies did something at the same time" in a random fashion, Paxton acknowledged, "it's probably a pretty low percentage chance that this was random."

"Either way, we're investigating it to find out what the truth is," he said. "And if it was random, then we'll hopefully find that out. If it wasn't, then we need to deal with the possibility that these companies are colluding to limit free speech and to limit viewpoints that they disagree with."

All five technology companies targeted by Paxton's CIDs have denied engaging in anti-competitive behaviors. 

Though not in direct response to Paxton, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Jan. 13 discounted the possibility of Big Tech collusion, even while musing that actions like the withdrawal of web hosting services for rival social media networks could undermine the competitive accountability that acts as a check on dominant internet platforms like Twitter. 

There is more.

Big tech is now acting as editors in picking and choosing what content they allow on their own platforms and on the platforms of competitors.  The antitrust division of the DOJ should be investigating their actions. 


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