Amazon asked a federal judge Tuesday to deny a request by conservative social media network Parler that Amazon reinstate its cloud-service account, noting that Parler had shrugged off requests to police violent content on its site before and after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Parler filed suit against Amazon on Monday, asserting breach of contract and antitrust violation after Amazon suspended Parler’s account last weekend — effectively scrubbing the social network from the internet.
“This case is not about suppressing speech or stifling viewpoints,” Amazon’s attorneys wrote. “Instead, this case is about Parler’s demonstrated unwillingness and inability to remove from the servers of Amazon Web Services (‘AWS’) content that threatens the public safety, such as by inciting and planning the rape, torture, and assassination of named public officials and private citizens.”
Parler’s lack of content moderation, Amazon said, had led to a “steady increase” in violent content on the network, in violation of Amazon’s terms of service.
Amazon’s takedown of Parler temporarily hobbled online proponents of the conspiracy theory, touted by President Donald Trump, that the presidential election had been fraudulent and the results needed to be overturned. The spread of similar falsehoods contributed to the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol, where a mob of Trump supporters swarmed congressional chambers to demand lawmakers decertify the results of the November election that resulted in a victory for Joe Biden.
In the aftermath of the mayhem at the Capitol, which resulted in five deaths, social media companies including Facebook, Twitter and Reddit suspended thousands of accounts linked to the insurrection, including Trump’s, prompting many users to flee to Parler and similar apps with a primarily right-wing userbase.
Parler’s lawsuit got off to a stumbling start. The company filed its request for a temporary restraining order, which would have stopped Amazon from booting Parler off its hosting services, one day too late — after Parler had already been wiped from the web. Parler also initially failed to serve Amazon with its complaint, in violation of court rules.
Parler’s choice of attorney in the case is something of an enigma. Solo practitioner David Groesbeck, of Spokane, has previously represented local businesses in licensing, real estate and property disputes. Groesbeck has not responded to requests for comment; his website redirects to an “under construction” page.
Groesbeck filed the suit from an Olympia address owned by lobbyist Tom McBride. Reached by phone, McBride said that he was unaffiliated with Groesbeck’s law firm and that Groesbeck no longer rents the home listed on the lawsuit.
Parler’s lawsuit contended that Amazon had colluded with Twitter in violation of antitrust law to “kill Parler’s business — at the very time it is set to skyrocket,” according to the complaint.
By November last year, though, Amazon’s cloud-computing division had received reports of harmful content posted on Parler. Over the next seven weeks, Amazon forwarded more than 100 pieces of content advocating or glorifying violence to Parler executives, and inquired about the network’s content moderation policies.
Violent content only grew after the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to Amazon’s response. In phone calls after the Capitol riot, Parler told Amazon executives it relied primarily on volunteers to police content and had a backlog of more than 26,000 posts to review for violations of its community standards — leading Amazon to suspend Parler’s account Sunday evening.
Amazon’s attorneys, Ambika Doran and Alonzo Wickers of Davis Wright Tremaine, asked U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle to deny Parler’s motion for a temporary restraining order in light of the proliferation of violent content on Parler — which advertises itself as an unmoderated, anything-goes alternative to Twitter.
“Compelling AWS to host content that plans, encourages, and incites violence would be unprecedented,” Doran and Wickers wrote in their response. Moreover, they argued, Parler is unlikely to prevail on the merits of the case. Parler cannot hold Amazon “liable … for enforcing the agreement’s express terms.”
Moreover, Amazon’s attorneys wrote, Parler did not provide any evidence of its allegations that Amazon had colluded with rivals to threaten its business.
Parler’s complaint said that Amazon’s decision to nix its contract has made the social network a business “pariah.” As a result of Amazon’s complaints about violent content on the site, Parler has been “unable to find an alternative web-hosting company,” the company wrote in its complaint.
Parler’s claims that it had been marginalized, though, were soon thrown into question. Within hours after filing the complaint, Parler had transferred its domain name to Sammamish-based Epik, a domain registrar and web host notorious for serving neo-Nazi and far-right websites.
After Amazon notified Parler last weekend that its account would be terminated, CEO John Matze promised Parler users that the site would be operational again in 12 hours, according to Amazon’s response. Parler had prepared for events like this, Matze posted on Parler, “by never relying on amazons [sic] proprietary infrastructure.”