Social network Parler has sued Amazon, arguing its decision to cut off web hosting services to the platform after the assault on the US Capitol by a mob supporting Donald Trump was illegal and violated antitrust laws.
The niche Twitter rival, which is popular among the far-right for its hands-off approach to content moderation, was forced offline on Sunday after Amazon withdrew its cloud services from the app, citing repeated failures to clamp down on violence-inciting content. Google and Apple banned the app from their stores over the weekend on the same grounds.
On Monday, Parler filed a lawsuit in Amazon’s home state of Washington, alleging that the move by its Web Service was “motivated by political animus” and “designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter”.
Parler argued that Twitter, also a client of AWS, was losing market share to Parler as a result of its decision to permanently block the account of Mr Trump on Friday.
Amazon did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit, which also included allegations of breach of contract.
In a letter to Parler on Saturday, AWS had said its decision to cut off the app was motivated by repeated violations of its terms of service, and a lack, on Parler’s part, of any strategy for dealing with “a steady increase in violent content”.
“It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service,” the letter read.
Moves by a handful of private Silicon Valley companies to “deplatform” the US president and his promotion machine have shone a spotlight on the political power that they now hold, reigniting debates around antitrust and free speech and embroiling them in the fallout from the US Capitol rampage.
Twitter’s share price fell more than 6 per cent on Monday to about $48, as investors were spooked by the renewed debate into the prospect of tighter social media regulation.
The drop also reflected the end of the symbiotic relationship between the social media platform and Mr Trump, who obsessively used it to broadcast directly to his 88m followers, simultaneously attracting attention and users to the site.
While far smaller, Parler, a self-described “unbiased social media network” that purports to champion “free speech”, had shot up app store rankings, receiving 9.6m installs globally in 2020, about 7.8m of which were in the US, according to data from SensorTower.
Despite a posting from Parler’s chief executive on Sunday suggesting the site had many options for alternative hosting and that it would be back online within a week, the court filing suggested that would not be possible.
“Parler has tried to find alternative companies to host it and they have fallen through. It has no other options. Without AWS, Parler is finished as it has no way to get online.”
Separately on Monday, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said that the platform had no plans to lift its indefinite ban on Mr Trump. Some critics have urged the company to follow Twitter in making the suspension permanent.