Amazon says banning Parler was 'last resort' because of its 'unwillingness to remove violent content
Amazon has said booting Parler from the web was a ‘last resort’ after the social media site sued the web host for antitrust violations.
The tech giant said in legal filings that the app – favored by Donald Trump supporters – was ‘unwilling’ to ‘remove content that incites and plans the rape, torture and assassination of named public officials’.
Users called for Barack Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi to ‘fry’ and also labelled Stacey Abrams ‘good target practice’, the filing claims. One post allegedly read: ‘We are going to fight in a civil War on Jan.20th, Form MILITIAS now and acquire targets.’
Amazon also looks to Section 230 – the law much maligned by the president – as a defense in scrubbing the site from the web Monday.
Section 230 allows social platforms to moderate their services by removing posts that are obscene or violate the services’ own standards, so long as they are acting in ‘good faith.’ Amazon argue: ‘That is precisely what AWS did here: removed access to content it considered ‘excessively violent’ and ‘harassing’.’
Apple, GooglePlay and Amazon Web Services (AWS) removed Parler from their platforms for allowing messages to be shared inciting violence even after the January 6 riot where a Trump-inspired mob stormed the Capitol building.
Parler on Monday then announced plans to sue Amazon, filing an 18-page lawsuit.
Twitter last week banned the president and tens of thousands of right-wing accounts after Trump loyalists attacked the U.S. Capitol, and the crackdown later extended to competing platform Parler, which is offline after Amazon removed hosting services.
Scroll for Amazon’s response in full
Amazon has said booting Parler from the web was a ‘last resort’ after the social media site sued the web host for antitrust violations
Shortly after 3am EST Monday, Parler disappeared from the web with an error message saying ‘we can’t connect to the server’ after Amazon pulled the plug
Parler filed a 18-page suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle against Amazon Web Services (AWS) on Monday. It claims: ‘AWS’s decision to effectively terminate Parler’s account is apparently motivated by political animus. It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter.’
It notes: ‘Friday night one of the top trending tweets on Twitter was ‘Hang Mike Pence.’ But AWS has no plans nor has it made any threats to suspend Twitter’s account.’
In their filing Amazon list examples they said they flagged to Parler, including threats to its CEO Jeff Bezos as well as Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. They call Parler’s lawsuit ‘meritless’.
The post read: ‘Death to @zuckerberg @realjeffbezos @jackdorsey @pichai.’
Another said: ‘After the firing squads are done with the politicians the teachers are next.’
Amazon also claim to have raised concerns about posts threatening the deaths of Democratic lawmakers including Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Chuck Schumer as well as calls for a civil war.
They add: ‘This case is not about suppressing speech or stifling viewpoints. It is not about a conspiracy to restrain trade.
‘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 sued Amazon for antitrust violations. The app’s CEO John Matze, pictured with his family, said Tuesday that pulling his app is unconstitutional
Hailed by Donald Trump supporters as a conservative-friendly alternative to Twitter, Parler is seen as a magnet for the far right and was accused by Apple, Google and Amazon of continuing to allow messages inciting violence after Wednesday’s attack at the Capitol
What are Parler’s options now?
Losing access to the app stores of Google and Apple — whose operating systems power hundreds of millions of smartphones — severely limits Parler’s reach, though it had continued to be accessible via web browser.
The decision by Amazon Web Services to remove Parler means it now needs to scramble to find another web host in addition to ‘rebuilding the site from scratch’.
Google and Apple both booted Gab from their app stores in 2017 and it was left internet-homeless for a time the following year due to anti-Semitic posts attributed to the man accused of killing 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Microsoft also terminated a web-hosting contract.
It now hosts through its own servers, so that is an option.
Or it can find another server willing to host the site. Max Aliapoulios, a computer science Ph. D candidate told Business Insider: ‘It is realistic to expect that Parler will find another provider to host their services like AWS.
‘That being said, now the precedent is set and Parler will likely always have an uphill battle with finding a home to host them on the internet.’
On Monday it was reported that the site has since moved its domain name from DreamHost to right leaning web hosting company Epik.
Parler CEO John Matze said Tuesday that pulling his app is unconstitutional.
‘I think it’s sick. That’s not what the Constitution said. That’s not what the Constitution stands for, banning 10-plus million U.S. voters from the internet, barring people from free speech,’ he told Fox News.
Amazon was on Saturday forced to warn its employees to ‘be vigilant’ following far right threats to blow up its data centers, a leaked memo reveals.
In an email to staff Saturday, Chris Vondehaar, Vice President of Infrastructure at Amazon Web Services (AWS), said: ‘We all need to [be] vigilant during this time to keep one another and our facilities safe.
‘If you see something, say something — no situation or concern is too small or insignificant.’
Amazon has also blocked service updates on their systems in an effort to avoid a cyber attack by those upset at the decision to remove the right leaning social media site used by Donald Trump fans.
While Parler itself is a non-partisan company, it has become a place of refuge for Trump supporters and QAnon conspiracy theorists kicked off Facebook and Twitter.
The app is popular among political conservatives and became the most downloaded app the weekend of November 8 – when the election was called for Biden, and has been criticized for allowing hateful, violent speech to run free on the app.
Matze says it’s not just his company that has suffered in the wake of the protests, but he’s received multiple death threats in the past week.
The social media crackdown has revived a debate over whether tech giants should be treated as ‘publishers’ with the same liability as news providers.
Critics have slammed the move as a purge on free speech and pointed to Amazon ‘holding the keys to the internet’.
Elon Musk has torn into the ‘West Coast high tech’ who have turned into the ‘de facto arbiter of free speech’ after Amazon scrubbed Parler from the internet.
The Tesla and SpaceX CEO had replied to a satirical tweet about Twitter and Facebook banning Donald Trump from their platforms. Twitter also permanently banned Trump loyalists as part of a broader purge of accounts.
Musk said Monday: ‘A lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech.’
Replying to another user who said ‘West Coast high tech has to make the distinction between banning hate speech and banning speech it hates’, Musk added: ‘This is an important distinction.’
In his final post before the 3am deadline, Matze said that ‘most people with enough servers to host us have shut their doors to us’
The app was removed from the Google app store after conservative social media users flocked to the site in the wake of the Capitol attack
Pro-Trump protesters storm into the U.S. Capitol during clashes with police, during a rally to contest the certification of presidential election results by on January 6
Conservative commentator Glenn Beck on Tuesday compared recent social media crackdowns to WWII ‘ghettos’. His remarks drew swift condemnation from Jewish advocates and left-wing critics.
Libertarian journalist Glenn Greenwald blasted Twitter for condemning political internet censorship in Uganda after banning President Donald Trump and his allies.
He accused Twitter of ‘doing exactly that which they are lecturing the Ugandans you cannot do.’
Discussing the removal of Parler from AWS, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Ben Wizner told The New York Times: ‘There is a difference between a social media platform like Twitter…deciding who its members are and what its guidelines should be, and a company like Amazon that really hold the keys to the internet.’
SECTION 230: THE LAW AT CENTER OF BIG TECH SHOWDOWN
Twenty-six words tucked into a 1996 law overhauling telecommunications have allowed companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to grow into the giants they are today.
Under the U.S. law, internet companies are generally exempt from liability for the material users post on their networks. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act – itself part of a broader telecom law – provides a legal ‘safe harbor’ for internet companies.
But Republicans increasingly argue that Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have abused that protection and should lose their immunity – or at least have to earn it by satisfying requirements set by the government.
Section 230 probably can’t be easily dismantled. But if it was, the internet as we know it might cease to exist.
Just what is Section 230?
If a news site falsely calls you a swindler, you can sue the publisher for libel. But if someone posts that on Facebook, you can’t sue the company – just the person who posted it.
That’s thanks to Section 230, which states that ‘no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’
That legal phrase shields companies that can host trillions of messages from being sued into oblivion by anyone who feels wronged by something someone else has posted – whether their complaint is legitimate or not.
Section 230 also allows social platforms to moderate their services by removing posts that, for instance, are obscene or violate the services’ own standards, so long as they are acting in ‘good faith.’
Where did Section 230 come from?
The measure’s history dates back to the 1950s, when bookstore owners were being held liable for selling books containing ‘obscenity,’ which is not protected by the First Amendment. One case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which held that it created a ‘chilling effect’ to hold someone liable for someone else´s content.
That meant plaintiffs had to prove that bookstore owners knew they were selling obscene books, said Jeff Kosseff, the author of ‘The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet,’ a book about Section 230.
Fast-forward a few decades to when the commercial internet was taking off with services like CompuServe and Prodigy. Both offered online forums, but CompuServe chose not to moderate its, while Prodigy, seeking a family-friendly image, did.
CompuServe was sued over that, and the case was dismissed. Prodigy, however, got in trouble. The judge in their case ruled that ‘they exercised editorial control – so you’re more like a newspaper than a newsstand,’ Kosseff said.
That didn’t sit well with politicians, who worried that outcome would discourage newly forming internet companies from moderating at all. And Section 230 was born.
‘Today it protects both from liability for user posts as well as liability for any clams for moderating content,’ Kosseff said.
What happens if Section 230 is limited or goes away?
‘I don´t think any of the social media companies would exist in their current forms without Section 230,’ Kosseff said. ‘They have based their business models on being large platforms for user content.’
There are two possible outcomes. Platforms might get more cautious, as Craigslist did following the 2018 passage of a sex-trafficking law that carved out an exception to Section 230 for material that ‘promotes or facilitates prostitution.’ Craigslist quickly removed its ‘personals’ section altogether, which wasn’t intended to facilitate sex work. But the company didn´t want to take any chances.
This outcome could actually hurt none other than the president himself, who routinely attacks private figures, entertains conspiracy theories and accuses others of crimes.
‘If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump´s lies, defamation, and threats,’ said Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Another possibility: Facebook, Twitter and other platforms could abandon moderation altogether and let the lower common denominator prevail.
Such unmonitored services could easily end up dominated by trolls, like 8chan, which is infamous for graphic and extremist content, said Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. Undoing Section 230 would be an ‘an existential threat to the internet,’ he said.