Amazon Web Services has denied that is engaged in a "conspiracy to restrain trade" after summarily pulling the plug on social network Parler.
After Parler came under intense scrutiny in the US over its use by the violent mob who broke into the US government's Capitol building in Washington DC, Amazon Web Services, used by Parler's operators to host the social network, booted it off – allegedly with 30 hours' notice.
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. There is no legal basis in AWS’s customer agreements or otherwise to compel AWS to host content of this nature.
The content in question was by and large generated by right-wing and far-right Trump groupies calling for an insurrection in the US, following soon-to-be-ex-president Donald Trump's failure to win the November general election. Last week, Trump addressed a crowd of followers near the Capitol building, and egged them on to confront lawmakers, which resulted in the mob storming the building and temporarily halting the certification by Congress of Joe Biden's victory. Five people died in the chaos: a cop and four of the rioters.
"AWS notified Parler repeatedly that [this] content violated the parties' agreement, requested removal, and reviewed Parler's plan to address the problem, only to determine that Parler was unable or unwilling to do so," alleged Amazon's US court filing.
Parler signed an AWS Customer Agreement, said AWS, that explicitly included AWS's acceptable user policy (AUP) which forbade content that "violates the rights of others, or that may be harmful to others." Parler, said AWS, was therefore dutybound to remove any content from its service that violated those terms and conditions – as well as anything that broke "any applicable law".
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In AWS's view, Parler's moderation processes, which it characterized as relying on volunteers, wasn't robust enough to remove hateful content, and so it began taking action. Presumably wanting rid of Parler, AWS operatives spent seven weeks from November 2020 forwarding what it said were 98 examples of posts containing abuse and violent threats.
The web giant then followed the coordinated efforts of Apple and Google this week to deplatform Parler, though AWS claimed in its filing that it would "ensure that all of your data is preserved for you to migrate to your own servers, and will work with you as best we can to help your migration."
But-but-but Twitter! Collusion!
The arguments deployed by AWS to defend its shutdown of Parler, said the latter, could easily be used against Twitter, another social networking website where violent and threatening content is easy to find – as well as hate-fueled propaganda from religious dictatorships. Exhibit A:
The main agents of disastrous creation of israel are western govts. Conspiring with Jewish plutocrats, Britain prepared a fabrication called Zionism to play its role. After WWII, they abused problems of region’s states & declared the bogus regime, nationless Zionist state.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) May 22, 2020
Responding to Parler's claim that AWS had failed to hold rival Twitter to the same standard of content moderation as the largely right-wing antisocial network, AWS's lawyers wrote: "Parler's Complaint is replete with insinuations that AWS had equal grounds to suspend Twitter's account and thus discriminated against Parler… but AWS does not host Twitter's feed, so of course it could not have suspended access to Twitter's content."
This appears to be at direct odds with news reports from December based on Amazon's own statements confirming that AWS provides "global cloud infrastructure to deliver Twitter timelines." Nonetheless, an unnamed AWS exec was said to have stated that AWS did not communicate with Twitter before kicking Parler off its cloud platform, though no further details were given in the US filing.
While the lawsuit will doubtless be seen off – it is hard to see Parler having the financial resources to stand up to AWS for long, much less go through document discovery and amendments of its pleadings – the Pandora's Box this has opened will not be closing any time soon.
Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel has already described Parler's defenestration as "problematic", while Poland's mostly pro-Trump government has gleefully leapt on Parler's downfall to prepare a law making it illegal for tech platforms to ban users without a local judge's permission. ®