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Instead of amending its federal lawsuit against Amazon Web Services after a judge ripped its request for an injunction, Parler is trying a different course. It dropped that suit and filed a new one in Washington state court — this time alleging violations of its rights as a consumer.
The legal fight started after AWS suspended Parler’s web hosting service in the days following the Jan 6. violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, an event which has been widely reported to have been coordinated on social media. AWS said it flagged nearly a hundred examples of posts meant to incite or encourage violence and it was terminating its service because Parler didn’t have policies or procedures in place to moderate such content.
The day after its site went dark, Parler sued claiming the real reason for its shutdown was that AWS is conspiring with Twitter to quash potential competitors in the social media space and asked for an injunction that would bar the company from terminating its service. U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein denied the motion finding that Parler didn’t show a likelihood of prevailing on its claims and rejected “any suggestion that the public interest favors requiring AWS to host the incendiary speech that the record shows some of Parler’s users have engaged in.”
Parler had initially intended to amend its complaint, but the company instead chose to move the fight to state court — centering the bulk of its suit on the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
Its new suit starts by noting the size and market power of AWS and its parent company, specifically mentioning that Amazon’s almost $1.7 trillion valuation is “about the annual GDP of Russia” and AWS has about a third of the global cloud service business.
“When companies are this big, it’s easy to be a bully,” writes attorney Angelo Calfo in the complaint.”Many start-up companies that have appeared to be a threat to Amazon and AWS have felt their wrath. Plaintiff Parler LLC is merely the latest casualty—a victim of Amazon’s efforts to destroy an up-and-coming technology company through deceptive, defamatory, anticompetitive, and bad faith conduct.”
Parler claims it had a positive relationship with AWS and the company hadn’t shared any major concerns over content moderation during the first two years they were in business.
“In fact, just two days before the termination announcement, AWS had assured Paler that it was ‘okay’ as to problematic content,” writes Calfo. “Parler relied on this representation and similar representations from AWS, to the detriment of its own business.”
The social site insists nothing significantly had changed in its moderation procedures, but says in the weeks leading up to its shutdown AWS “signed a major new contract” with Twitter. After then-president Donald Trump was booted from Twitter, Parler expected him to come to its site and bring millions of followers with him.
Parler alleges that it would have become “a huge threat to Twitter in the microblogging market” and that’s why AWS pulled the plug. The company also claims AWS is “secretly selling Parler user data.”
The complaint also does a deep dive into how Parler operates and contrasts that with the major social media sites. It argues its users are less likely to find themselves in echo chambers because it doesn’t use artificial intelligence to “encourage its users to see and interact with like-minded folks.” According to the complaint, there also aren’t any groups and sending direct messages requires a verified account. (It’s verification isn’t a blue check system for high-profile users like Twitter. It’s an identity confirmation that requires uploading a selfie and a driver’s license or other ID.)
It also runs through a laundry list of examples of violent content on Twitter and Facebook that went ignored and claims there’s no evidence its site played a role in coordinating the Jan. 6 attack.
Parler is alleging multiple violations of the Washington Consumer Protection Act, and argues that the AWS Customer Agreement is a contract of adhesion, a take it or leave it deal that “unfairly, deceptively, and unconscionably advantages AWS and harms its customers.” Parler says the contract is drafted in a way that forces its customers to breach it “en masse,” which gives AWS the ability to terminate just about any agreement “for cause.”
The site’s other claims include breach of contract, violation of Seattle’s fair contracting practices ordinance and defamation — claiming that AWS (or one of its employees) leaked the termination letter to Buzzfeed knowing that the reasons listed within were merely pretextual.
Here’s Amazon’s statement in response to the complaint, which is embedded below: “There is no merit to these claims. AWS provides technology and services to customers across the political spectrum, and we respect Parler’s right to determine for itself what content it will allow. However, as shown by the evidence in Parler’s federal lawsuit, it was clear that there was significant content on Parler that encouraged and incited violence against others, which is a violation of our terms of service. Further, Parler was unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content, which coupled with an increase in this type of dangerous violent content, led to our suspension of their services.”
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