Parler sues Amazon, leveling far-fetched antitrust allegations

Parler has sued Amazon after the beleaguered conservative social media site was expelled from AWS, filing a fanciful complaint alleging the internet giant took it out for political reasons — and in an antitrust conspiracy to benefit Twitter. But its own allegations, including breach of contract, are belied by evidence they supply alongside the suit.

In the lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. Western District Court, Parler complains that “AWS’s decision to effectively terminate Parler’s account is apparently motivated by political animus. It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter.”

Regarding the “political animus” it is difficult to speak to Parler’s reasoning, since that argument is supported nowhere in the suit — it simply is never referred to again.

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.

By way of contrast, one Parler post cited by Amazon says that “we need to start systematicly [sic] assasinating [sic] #liberal leaders, liberal activists, #blm leaders and supporters,” and so on. As TechCrunch has been monitoring Parler conversations, we can say that this is far from an isolated example of this rhetoric.

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 to 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.

But in the email attached as evidence to the lawsuit — literally exhibit A — Amazon makes it clear the issues have been ongoing for longer than that (emphasis added):

Over the past several weeks, we’ve reported 98 examples to Parler of posts that clearly encourage and incite violence… You remove some violent content when contacted by us or others, but not always with urgency… It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.

You can read the rest of the letter here, but it’s obvious that Amazon is not simply saying that a few days of violations are the cause of Parler’s being kicked off the service.

Parler asks a judge for a Temporary Restraining Order that would restore its access to AWS while the rest of the case is argued, and for damages to be specified at trial.

TechCrunch has asked Amazon for comment and will update this post if we hear back. Meanwhile you can read the full complaint below.

Parler v Amazon by TechCrunch