Parler have sued Amazon for ending a web hosting agreement after last week’s riot at the US Capitol. Parler claims Amazon Web Services severed ties to stop Parler from competing with the larger social platform Twitter, and it’s asking a court to stop Amazon from shutting down its account arguing that an extended shutdown would be like “pulling the plug on a hospital patient on life support.”
Parler bills itself as a more permissive alternative to Facebook and Twitter, particularly as those sites have cracked down on President Donald Trump and his supporters for seeking to violently overturn the US election results. That stance has earned backlash from digital infrastructure companies. Apple and Google removed the Parler app from their stores, limiting its reach. Amazon dealt an even more fatal blow when it kicked Parler off AWS, taking the site down altogether.
There is the suggestion that Amazon has shown more tolerance for offending content on Twitter than on Parler, but this isn’t well substantiated. For instance, the suit notes that “Hang Mike Pence” trended on Friday the 8th, without noting that much of this volume was, as any user of Twitter can see by searching, people decrying this phrase as having been chanted by the rioters in the Capitol two days prior.
The lawsuit sheds some light on Amazon’s rationale for banning Parler. In an email, Amazon’s moderation team says it is “troubled” by repeated policy violations. The email cites 98 posts that incite violence. It includes screenshots of a call to hang “traitors,” as well as an exhortation to “start systematicly assasinating” liberal leaders, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, and others in January with a note that “I already have a news worthy event planned.” Amazon said publicly that it “cannot provide services to a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others.”
The antitrust argument suggests a conspiracy by Amazon to protect and advance the interests of Twitter. Specifically, the argument is that because Twitter is a major customer of AWS, and Parler is a threat to Twitter, Amazon wanted to take Parler out of the picture.
Given the context of Parler’s looming threat to Twitter and the fact that the Twitter ban might not long muzzle the President if he switched to Parler, potentially bringing tens of millions of followers with him, AWS moved to shut down Parler.
This argument is not convincing for several reasons, but the most obvious one is that Parler was at the time also an AWS customer. If people are going from one customer to another, why would Amazon care at all, let alone enough to interfere to the point of legal and ethical dubiety?
The lawsuit also accuses Amazon of leaking the email communicating Parler’s imminent suspension to reporters before it was sent to administrators at the site. (It also says that Amazon “sought to defame” Parler, though defamation is not part of the legal complaint. Parler seems to be using this term rather loosely.)
Lastly Parler says Amazon is in breach of contract, having not given the 30 days warning stipulated in the terms of service. The exception is if a “material breach remains uncured for a period of 30 days” after notice. As Parler explains it:
On January 8, 2021, AWS brought concerns to Parler about user content that encouraged violence. Parler addressed them, and then AWS said it was “okay” with Parler.
The next day, January 9, 2021, AWS brought more “bad” content to Parler and Parler took down all of that content by the evening.
Thus, there was no uncured material breach of the Agreement for 30 days, as required for termination.
Parler’s lawsuit echoes a similar complaint by Gab, another social network favored by far-right figures. Gab sued Google in 2017 for kicking it off the Play Store, claiming it amounted to anti-competitive behavior.