A lawyer from Spokane is leading the lawsuit in federal court through the conservative-friendly social network Parler, which was launched from the Internet last week for links to the deadly siege of the US Capitol.
Spokane attorney David J. Groesbeck filed the infringement lawsuit against Amazon Web Services on behalf of Parler in Seattle on Monday. Amazon called over the weekend to end its hosting role, effectively taking Parler off the Internet. Google and Apple also removed the Parler app from their mobile app stores this weekend.
Groesbeck argued in the lawsuit filed in Washington’s western district that Amazon must notify Parler 30 days before the service is terminated.
“When Twitter announced two evenings ago that it would permanently ban President Trump from its platform, conservative users fled en masse from Twitter to Parler,” wrote Groesbeck. “The exodus was so great that the next day, yesterday, Parler became the number one free app downloaded from Apple’s App Store.”
He stated that Amazon officials argued they were not confident Parler could properly monitor its platform for “content promoting or inciting violence”. Parler does not use content moderators or artificial intelligence to root out and remove harmful posts such as Twitter and Facebook.
“On Friday night, ‘Hang Mike Pence’ was one of the most popular tweets on Twitter,” wrote Groesbeck. “But (Amazon) has no plans or threats to suspend Twitter’s account.”
Groesbeck did not respond to voice and text messages from The Spokesman Review on Monday.
It’s not entirely clear how Groesbeck got involved in the Seattle lawsuit. He has practiced law in Spokane for decades, said Doug Siddoway, partner at Randall | Danskin PS, where Groesbeck used to work before opening his own law firm.
“David’s a thoughtful guy,” said Siddoway. “I don’t think a lawyer should … be labeled just for taking on a case for an unpopular client.”
69-year-old Siddoway has been a lawyer in Spokane since 1985. He said lawyers are required to represent those who have only claims, even if those arguments are loathed in the public eye.
“This is not a First Amendment case like the town of Coeur d’Alene, which is denying Butler (the late leader of the Aryan Nations, Pastor Richard) parade permission,” Siddoway said. “This is a business breach of contract.”
According to Groesbeck’s complaint, he found that Amazon officials found 98 examples that “clearly encourage and incite violence,” including someone who wrote, “How about they hang?”
Siddoway said he thought Groesbeck’s lawsuit was an uphill battle.
“One cannot expect the Amazons and Googles of the world to continue running a website populated by those who appear to have intentions to undermine the Constitution and democracy,” he said.
Parler, who likes to position himself as a “free speech” Twitter competitor, came into the public eye last year amid a conservative backlash against social media websites, particularly when President Donald Trump attacked Facebook and Twitter for allegedly censoring his posts .
John Matze, CEO of Parler, told the Associated Press that the actions of Apple, Google and Amazon were “a coordinated attack by technology giants to kill competition in the marketplace”.
The company was started through an investment from billionaire Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, who along with her father Trump helped bankroll far-right website Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica. Right-wing commentator Dan Bongino is also an investor and frequent user of the site.
Groesbeck argued in the lawsuit on behalf of Parler that Amazon had conspired against the deal after it recently signed a multi-year contract with Twitter. He asked a federal judge for an injunction to prevent Amazon from closing the website.
“Parler tried to find alternative companies to host it and they failed,” wrote Groesbeck. “There are no other options. And delaying the issuance of this (injunction) by a day could also mean Parler’s death knell if President Trump and others switch to other platforms. “
By Monday noon, Parler had already taken at least one step towards the relaunch.
According to the Seattle Times, Parler has transferred its domain name to Sammamish-based Epik, which also owns the similar far-right social media network Gab. However, Parler still needs a new hosting provider.
Epik issued a long statement on Sunday criticizing Twitter and Facebook for blocking accounts of Trump and his followers. In addition, the January 6 riot at the US Capitol has been compared to ongoing protests against police brutality sparked by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May.
In 2018, Epik announced it would stop hosting the far-right message board 8chan after law enforcement linked its users to three mass shootings.
“Without a smarter distinction outside of a mob-based judgment (sic) of instant convenience, the choices we make now can ultimately be used to diminish the freedoms that many take for granted,” the Seattle statement said Times.
Despite the accused arguments, Siddoway hopes that Groesbeck, his two-decade friend and colleague, won’t somehow be painted with the same brush as those who would use social media to spread violence.
“Lawyers are slandered for the clients they represent. It shouldn’t work that way, ”said Siddoway. “Everyone is entitled to their day in court.”
The Washington Post and Associated Press contributed to this report.