Parler sues Amazon, asks court to reinstate platform

Social media company Parler sued Amazon on Monday, alleging that its suspension from Amazon's hosting service violated antitrust law and breached the companies' contractual arrangement.

In its lawsuit, Parler, which is especially popular among conservatives, asked a federal judge to order that the platform be reinstated online.

The 18-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered, accuses Amazon Web Services (AWS) of applying a politically motivated double standard to Parler in contrast to its treatment of the more mainstream social media giant Twitter.

“AWS’s decision to effectively terminate Parler’s account is apparently motivated by political animus,” the lawsuit reads. “It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter.”

Multiple legal experts said that Parler's antitrust claim was unlikely to succeed. The lawsuit does not establish that Parler's suspension was part of an agreement between Amazon and Twitter, the rival social media company that Parler identified as the beneficiary of its shutdown.

“On the antitrust side, it's pretty weak,” said Erik Hovenkamp, a law professor at the University of Southern California. “The biggest flaw in the complaint by far is really just that it doesn’t allege facts that would indicate a conspiracy between Amazon and Twitter.”

The lawsuit comes a day after Amazon suspended Parler, citing concerns it could not adequately screen out potentially incendiary content, including material that incites violence. It also follows Wednesday's deadly, Trump-inspired insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead.

The app saw a massive surge in users between the mob attack at the Capitol and when it was pulled down from Amazon Web Services.

Parler saw approximately 825,000 installs from the Apple and Google stores between Wednesday and Sunday, a more than 1,000 percent increase from the same period a week earlier, according to data from SensorTower.

Parler told the court that its newfound popularity explained part of the urgency behind its emergency request to have its suspension reversed.

"It will kill Parler’s business — at the very time it is set to skyrocket," the filing states.

In addition to its antitrust claim, Parler also alleged that Amazon breached their contract by not giving 30 days notice before terminating Parler’s account. 

However, Amazon reportedly notified Parler over the past several weeks that numerous posts on its site had promoted violence, in violation of their agreed-upon terms. According to a letter obtained by BuzzFeed, Amazon informed Parler of 98 examples of content “that clearly encourage and incite violence” over that timeframe.

David Hoffman, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said it would severely undercut Parler’s breach of contract claim if in fact Amazon had warned the company repeatedly that it was playing host to offensive material.

“It's not simply that there's one day of bad posts,” Hoffman said, referring to Amazon’s letter. “There have been repeated warnings over time about Parler’s failure to comply with Amazon's terms of use. Given those repeated warnings over time, it's sort of rich to say, ‘You didn’t give us enough time.’”

Hoffman also noted that Amazon's standard policy is to resolve web-hosting disputes through an arbitration process rather than in the courts, presenting another potential legal pitfall for Parler.   

Amazon's suspension of Parler came after the Apple and Google app stores — essentially the only places for Americans to download mobile apps — decided over the weekend to stop carrying Parler.

The furor over the app stems from its role in facilitating last week’s violent riot at the Capitol. Trump supporters and right-wing extremists used the app, which has billed itself as a haven for free speech, to coordinate and incite the demonstrations ostensibly opposing the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Without access to Amazon Web Services, the app has been dark on Monday.