Judge Refuses to Order Amazon to Put Parler Back Online

Parler won’t be back online any time soon, after a federal judge shot down its preliminary bid to force Amazon Web Services to restore its account.

The website of the social media platform Parler is displayed in Berlin, Jan. 10, 2021. The platform’s logo is on a screen in the background. The conservative-friendly social network Parler was booted off the internet Monday, Jan. 11, over ties to last week’s siege on the U.S. Capitol, but not before hackers made off with an archive of its posts, including any that might have helped organize or document the riot. (Christophe Gateau/dpa via AP)

SEATTLE, Wash. (CN) — Parler — the social media platform favored by conservatives and many in the insurrectionist mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol — will remain offline for now, after a federak judge ruled Amazon was under no obligation to continue to host the social media app after it let users post violent content leading up to and during the Jan. 6 riot.

Amazon suspended Parler’s account, kicking the website offline at midnight on Sunday, Jan. 10. In a letter to Parler announcing the move, Amazon cited numerous examples of posts where users “clearly encourage and incite violence,” court documents show.

Parler, a far-right answer to Twitter populated by right-wing activists kicked off more traditional social media outlets and those who follow them, sued Amazon the next day. Parler claimed Amazon didn’t give it fair warning of the impending shutdown. Parler said its contract with Amazon guaranteed a 30-day notice of such actions.

In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein noted Parler hadn’t filed any claims related to the First Amendment. And its claims for breach of contract, interference and restraint of business fall short of showing the likelihood of success needed for a preliminary injunction, Jacobs wrote.

In its complaint, Parler claimed Amazon booted it as part of a conspiracy with Twitter to reduce competition in the world of microblogging. Parler accused Amazon of “pulling the plug on Parler but leaving Twitter alone.” Parler claimed that was preferential treatment and unreasonable restraint of trade prohibited by the Sherman Act, the 1890 antitrust law prescribing free competition.

Parler said the takedown will “kill Parler’s business — at the very time it is set to skyrocket” — namely, two days after Twitter permanently banned then-President Donald Trump, and on the day that Parler became the top free download in Apple’s App Store, with 1 million downloads of its app that day. Parler grew rapidly after the 2020 election, and downloads skyrocketed after Twitter banned Trump amid rumors that he would open a Parler account.

Parler says such actions threaten it with “extinction.” But Jacobs found that argument undermined by Parler’s admission that financial compensation could mitigate much of the damage the company claims Amazon has done to its ability to do business.

And Twitter is irrelevant here, Jacobs pointed out, since Amazon Web Services doesn’t provide the Twitter Feed with online hosting services.

“In short, Parler has proffered only faint and factually inaccurate speculation in support of a Sherman Act violation,” Jacobs wrote. “In contrast, [Amazon] has submitted sworn testimony disputing Parler’s allegations.”

On the other hand, Parler acknowledged that it had a “backlog” of more than 26,000 posts that “potentially encouraged violence” in violation of Amazon’s acceptable use policy. The policy prohibits “illegal, harmful, or offensive” use or content that is “defamatory, obscene, abusive, invasive of privacy, or otherwise objectionable.”

Jacobs found Amazon’s contract with Parler allows it to suspend Parler’s web services “immediately” if it finds Parler in violation of the acceptable use policy.

Not mentioned in the ruling is Parler’s work with the Russian company DDoS-Guard, which has enabled Parler to create a website where it claims that the company’s full return is “inevitable” and cites a Fox News story where Parler CEO says he is “confident” Parler will be back by the end of January.

Parler claimed a preliminary injunction compelling Amazon to reverse course is in the public interest, which would be served by “fair and robust market competition.”

But Jacobs found that such an action would not serve the public’s interests.

“The court explicitly rejects any suggestion that the balance of equities or the public interest favors obligating [Amazon] to host the kind of abusive, violent content at issue in this case, particularly in light of the recent riots at the U.S. Capitol,” Jacobs wrote. “That event was a tragic reminder that inflammatory rhetoric can — more swiftly and easily than many of us would have hoped — turn a lawful protest into a violent insurrection.”

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