Parler, an alternative social networking site, has been in a fierce legal battle with AWS/Amazon since it was removed from Amazon’s platforms on January 10. Parler recently attempted to take the battle to state court but Amazon employed a hardball — and controversial — legal tactic to avoid the dangers of a state lawsuit.
In January, up-and-coming social media company Parler was run off-line after Amazon, Apple, and Google removed it from their platforms only days following the break-in of the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The Big Tech companies alleged that the events were directly related to activity that Parler failed to control on its platform. Parler quickly retaliated with a lawsuit, alleging that by ceasing its services, Amazon breached its contract. United States District Court Judge Barbara J. Rothstein denied Parler’s request for a court order requiring Amazon to restore its services to Parler.
In March, Parler dropped the federal case and filed a new lawsuit in Washington State, this time citing an anti-discrimination law hiding in Seattle’s codes. Seattle’s “Fair Contracting Practices“, passed in 1999, bans discrimination on the basis of political ideology, which includes interactions in business and contract dealings.
Seattle’s fair contracting ordinance could spell big trouble in particular for Amazon.com.
Amazon is headquartered in Seattle, and so there is little question that the Seattle law applies to it with full force. In the words of the attorney retained by Mind Matters News, “under the ordinance… any individual or business entity who is allegedly harmed by an unfair contracting practice by Amazon most likely would have a cause of action in a court of law against Amazon.”
…If Amazon’s actions against Parler were due in part to Parler’s political orientation, then those actions could constitute unlawful discrimination under Seattle law.John West, Little-Known Civil Rights Law Could Bring Big Tech to its Knees at Mind Matters News
In Parler’s new lawsuit, the Seattle law is explicitly cited. Parler accuses Amazon of discriminating against Parler based on political ideology:
AWS/Amazon violated the Ordinance by discriminating against Parler, in its contracting decisions, on the basis of Parler’s perceived political ideology and the political content published on Parler’s platform.Parler LLC vs. Amazon Web Services, Inc., and Amazon.com, Inc., Count 8, Page 47
As is the common (polite) custom in the legal world, Parler’s lawyers gave Amazon’s lawyers a heads-up the night prior to the lawsuit being served. Amazon’s lawyers went to work. After what must have been a whirlwind of a night, Amazon filed what is known as a “snap removal” only 24 minutes before receiving Parler’s service of process, removing the case from state to federal court.
A snap removal is a legal attempt on the part of the defendant to remove a case to another court before they are officially served. It has been given a certain amount of allowance in the court system, but to some it remains a controversial tactic.
The case is now in the hands of Judge Barbara J. Rothstein, the same judge who ruled in Amazon’s favor in January.
Parler immediately filed a motion to remand the case back to state court, and a hearing was set for March 26 to resolve the venue dispute.
Parler isn’t Amazon’s only challenger. Last week, Rep. Ken Buck and Sen. Mike Lee sent letters to the CEOs of Google, Apple, and Amazon demanding they answer for their actions against Parler. They accused the companies of taking action that lacked “any of the procedural fairness typically afforded in the case of an alleged breach of contract.” Further, they stated that the actions of the three companies “create the appearance of close coordination.”
In just three days, Apple and Google effectively cut off Parler’s primary distribution channel, and Amazon cut off Parler’s access to critical computing services, leaving the company completely unable to serve its 15 million users. These actions were against a company that is not alleged to have violated any law. In fact, information provided by Parler to the House Oversight Committee revealed that Parler was assisting law enforcement even in advance of January 6th.Letter from Rep. Ken Buck and Sen. Mike Lee to the CEOs of Google, Apple, and Amazon on March 31, 2021
The letter demands answers to several questions regarding each of the companies’ normal process in termination of a platform, the specific procedure they followed in the case of Parler, and any coordination that took place among the three companies in regards to Parler.
The legislators have requested that the Big Tech CEOs submit written answers by April 15.
Big Tech continues to face pressure from both sides of the political aisle. In a House subcommittee hearing on March 25, the CEOs of Google, Twitter, and Facebook faced accusatory questions from both Democrats and Republicans. From the left, the CEOs are blamed for the spread of misinformation and threatened with government regulation if things are not brought under control. From the right, they are accused of hampering free speech by primarily censoring conservative opinions.
You may also wish to read:
Parler drops federal suit; now suing Amazon in Washington State. Amazon was, according to Parler’s suit, about to sign an agreement with rival Twitter when it suddenly cut Parler’s services, may find Washington’s state court a tougher sell. Amazon’s censorship, when it happens seems mostly erratic and trend-driven. And the mooted deal with Twitter, Parler’s rival, suggests crass, not pure, motives.
Could a Seattle law hobble Amazon’s unaccountable censorship? John West discusses Amazon’s vulnerability in Seattle with Kara McKinney at Tipping Point. Amazon’s recent forays into delisting books based on political considerations could be considered viewpoint discrimination in its home town.