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Florida Man sues Facebook, Twitter, YouTube for account ban
Golf fan has opinions on America's First Amendment and Section 230
A Florida man held a press conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Wednesday to announce the filing of lawsuits against Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and corresponding executives Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Sundar Pichai – who runs YouTube's parent company.
The former political office holder, known among other things for a cancelled reality TV series, a discontinued steak business, a failed casino, and a shuttered business training school, accused the social networks of violating the First Amendment of the US Constitution by closing his accounts and deplatforming him.
Booted from the aforementioned internet services for statements deemed to have encouraged or incited the storming of the US Capitol by tooled-up tourists, the plaintiff is also seeking to have the courts declare Section 230 of America's Communications Decency Act unconstitutional.
Legal scholars were quick to ridicule the complaints. "The First Amendment does not apply to non-governmental actors – full stop," said Steve Vladeck, the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts at the University of Texas School of Law.
In an effort to overcome that legal obstacle, the litigant's complaint against Facebook [PDF] asserts that the internet ad giant's status "rises beyond that of a private company to that of a state actor."
The complaints against Twitter [PDF] and YouTube [PDF] make largely identical claims, arguing in essence that the defendant social media companies are part of the US government. All three cases, joined by assorted other individuals, were filed in Florida, which recently passed a social media law that has been challenged as unconstitutional.
Facebook, Google, and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The respective companies can be expected to ask that the cases be removed to California, per their terms of service, and that the claims be dismissed for legal deficiencies.
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In an email to The Register, Eric Goldman, associate dean for research and professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and co-director, High Tech Law Institute, said he can't imagine the plaintiff expects to win his cases, noting that the hospitality industry magnate doesn't seem to care that his legal arguments are weak.
"In particular, most of the arguments he's making have been tried in court by others and have failed decisively," said Goldman. "His lawsuits have no realistic chance of success."
He's never held accountable for bringing stupid cases and making stupid arguments in court
Goldman said the golfing enthusiast, often seen at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, "rarely files lawsuits because he expects to win, and he often doesn't invest much energy in lawsuits after they've been filed. He usually is seeking some other payoff from litigation. In this case, that payoff is almost certainly the media coverage he will get. He's never held accountable for bringing stupid cases and making stupid arguments in court."
The septuagenarian litigant, whose mental state was repeatedly questioned during his four-year stint in public office, is also asking the court to award monetary compensation, something he's also seeking from political donors. Meanwhile, his organization and its chief financial officer face criminal tax charges in New York. ®