Conservative social network Parler sues Amazon over web shutdown

NEW YORK (AFP) – The social platform Parler sued Amazon on Monday after the tech giant’s web division forced the conservative-favoured network offline for failing to rein in incitements to violence.

Nevada-based Parler asked a federal court for a restraining order to block Amazon Web Services (AWS) from cutting off access to Internet servers.

The suit comes amid a wave of action by online giants blocking access to United States (US) President Donald Trump’s supporters in the wake of last week’s US Capitol invasion and purported plans for new violent demonstrations, especially on the day President-elect Joe Biden is due to take office.

The lawsuit said Parler was due to go dark late Monday, but web trackers said it already was offline early in the day and had failed to find a new hosting service.

Shutting down the servers would be “the equivalent of pulling the plug on a hospital patient on life support”, the lawsuit said. “It will kill Parler’s business – at the very time it is set to skyrocket.”

Parler alleged Amazon was violating antitrust laws and acting to help social rival Twitter, which also has banned Trump for language that could incite violence.

The logo of the social media platform Parler in Berlin. PHOTO: AP

“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,” the complaint said.

Amazon said there was “no merit” to the lawsuit.

“We respect Parler’s right to determine for itself what content it will allow,” an AWS spokesperson said.

“However, it is clear that there is significant content on Parler that encourages and incites violence against others, and that Parler is unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content, which is a violation of our terms of service.”

Amazon said it had been in contact with Parler “over a number of weeks” and that during that time “we saw a significant increase in this type of dangerous content, not a decrease, which led to our suspension of their services Sunday evening”.

In a series of posts on Parler before the site went down, CEO John Matze accused the tech giants of a “war on free speech”.

Matze also denied allegations that it enables violent content.

“Our team worked hard to produce a strong set of community guidelines, which expressly forbids content which incites or threatens violence, or other activity which breaks the law,” he said in a statement.

But he also maintained that it is problematic to police all content because “Parler is not a surveillance app, so we can’t just write a few algorithms that will quickly locate 100 per cent of objectionable content”.

The lawsuit is the latest twist in a tussle between online operators and supporters of the president that hit a new phase after the siege of the US Capitol last week.