Parler expected President Donald Trump would join its service after his Twitter account was suspended last week — a possibility that Amazon was trying to block by forcing it offline, the company told a federal judge.
In a Thursday hearing at a federal court in Washington state, Parler attorney David Groesbeck said that the site, which saw a surge of new users after mainstream social media sites blocked Trump and others who had posted incendiary content around the Jan. 6 riots, would have been a logical destination for the president. Executives thought "he would move over to Parler," Groesbeck said.
In the company’s court filing, Parler’s chief executive argued that possibility was behind Amazon Web Services decision to stop hosting its content.
"I believe AWS’s decision to terminate service to Parler was based, not on expressed concerns about Parler’s compliance with the AWS Agreement, but in part on a desire to deny President Trump a platform on any large social-media service," John Matze said. Parler stresses that it does little to limit what its users can post and has become popular among conservatives.
Key context: After his Twitter suspension, Trump was considering other options and other conservatives either angry at Twitter or that have been booted from the site have pushed Parler as the new destination. If the company had succeeded on getting Trump to sign up it would have been a major boon for a site which has long been a niche platform.
At the hearing: Groesbeck also flatly denied that Parler was involved in the attack on Capitol Hill last week and urged Judge Barbara J. Rothstein to order Amazon Web Services to reinstate its web hosting service.
“AWS is alleging without evidence that Parler was used to incite the riots,” Groesbeck said. “There is no evidence other than some anecdotal press references that Parler was involved in the riots of Jan. 6.”
“Millions of Americans have had their voices silenced by AWS,” Groesbeck said.
How we got here: Late on Friday, Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account, citing concerns that he might incite further violence. Conservatives angry with what they called censorship of the president abandoned the platform for alternatives like Parler that have less moderation.
Parler, which had 15 million users at the time it was cut off Sunday, was adding about 1 million new users each day, lawyers said at the hearing.
Over the weekend, Apple and Google removed Parler from their app stores because of its failure to adopt a content moderation plan to deal with violent threats. Amazon, which hosted the site, also cut off its web hosting services to Parler a little before midnight on Sunday over the social media platform’s failure to abide by its terms of service.
Parler sued Amazon on Monday alleging antitrust and breach of contract claims. Groesbeck said he intended to file the complaint and a request for a temporary restraining order on Sunday but had technical difficulties with the federal court’s electronic filing system.
Amazon’s response: Ambika Doran, a lawyer for Amazon, said the AWS contract allows the company to temporarily suspend or terminate accounts that don’t comply with the terms of service. AWS provided Parler with about 100 examples of posts that violate the terms of service, she said, and the social media service had no plan to effectively moderate content that incites violence.
“Amazon had every right to do what it did under the contract,” she said.
Amazon executives were concerned about continuing to host the site because of a surge in violent posts following the Jan. 6 riots, Doran said. With the company adding so many users, Parler could have had 25 million users by Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, she said. Despite the surge in users, the company was slow to eliminate violent rape, murder and torture threats from its platform, Doran said.
“There is no one at Parler who says they have an effective moderation plan,” she said.
She also disputed Parler’s allegations that AWS has favored Twitter. The main live-feed for Twitter isn’t hosted by AWS, she said.
What’s next: Rothstein didn’t indicate how she would rule but said she would issue a decision quickly.