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Spokane attorney files suit for social media site Parler against Amazon

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 12, 2021

The website of the social media platform Parler is displayed Jan. 10, 2021. The platform's logo is on a screen in the background. The conservative-friendly social network Parler was booted off the internet Monday, Jan. 11, over ties to last week's siege on the U.S. Capitol.  (Christophe Gateau)
The website of the social media platform Parler is displayed Jan. 10, 2021. The platform's logo is on a screen in the background. The conservative-friendly social network Parler was booted off the internet Monday, Jan. 11, over ties to last week's siege on the U.S. Capitol. (Christophe Gateau)

A Spokane attorney is leading the legal fight in federal court by the conservative-friendly social network, Parler, which was booted off the internet over ties to last week’s deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol.

Attorney David J. Groesbeck, of Spokane, filed the breach-of-contract suit Monday in Seattle on behalf of Parler against Amazon Web Services. Amazon made the call over the weekend to end its role as the hosting provider, which effectively took Parler off the web. Google and Apple also removed the Parler app from their mobile app stores this weekend.

Groesbeck argued in the suit filed in the Western District of Washington that Amazon was required to give Parler a 30-day notice before terminating the service.

“When Twitter announced two evenings ago that it was permanently banning President Trump from its platform, conservative users began to flee Twitter en masse for Parler,” Groesbeck wrote. “The exodus was so large that the next day, yesterday, Parler became the number one free app downloaded from Apple’s App Store.”

He explained that Amazon officials argued they were not confident that Parler could properly police its platform of “content that encourages or incites violence.” Parler does not employ content moderators and artificial intelligence to root out and remove violative posts like Twitter and Facebook.

“Friday night one of the top trending tweets on Twitter was ‘Hang Mike Pence,’ ” Groesbeck wrote. “But (Amazon) has no plans nor has it made any threats to suspend Twitter’s account.”

Groesbeck did not respond Monday to voice and text messages left by The Spokesman-Review.

It’s not exactly clear how Groesbeck got involved with the suit filed in Seattle. He has practiced law for decades in Spokane, said Doug Siddoway, a partner with Randall|Danskin P.S. where Groesbeck formerly worked before opening his own legal office.

“David is a thoughtful guy,” Siddoway said. “I don’t think any attorney should be … labeled simply because they take on a case for an unpopular client.”

Siddoway, 69, has practiced law in Spokane since 1985. He said attorneys are duty bound to represent people who have just claims, even if those arguments are detested in the eyes of the public.

“This is not a First Amendment case like the city of Coeur d’Alene denying a parade permit to (the late Aryan Nations leader Pastor Richard) Butler,” Siddoway said. “This is a business, breach-of-contract case.”

According to Groesbeck’s complaint, he noted Amazon officials found 98 examples that “clearly encourage and incite violence,” including someone who posted: “How bout make them hang?”

Siddoway said he thinks Groesbeck’s lawsuit is an uphill battle.

“You can’t expect the Amazons and Googles of the world to continue to husband a website that is populated by those who appear intent on subverting the Constitution and democracy,” he said.

Parler, which likes to position itself as a “free speech” Twitter competitor, burst into the public spotlight last year amid conservative backlash against social media sites, especially as President Donald Trump attacked Facebook and Twitter for what he claimed was censorship of his posts.

Parler CEO John Matze told the Associated Press the actions by Apple, Google and Amazon were “a coordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the marketplace.”

The company was launched by an investment from the billionaire Republican megadonor Rebekah Mercer, who with her father has helped bankroll Trump, the far-right site Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica. Right-wing commentator Dan Bongino is also an investor and frequent user of the site.

Groesbeck, in the suit filed on behalf of Parler, argued Amazon was conspiring against the business after recently entering a multiyear deal with Twitter. He asked a federal judge for a temporary restraining order to prevent Amazon from shutting the site down.

“Parler has tried to find alternative companies to host it and they have fallen through,” Groesbeck wrote. “It has no other options. And a delay of granting this (restraining order) by even one day could also sound Parler’s death knell as President Trump and other move on to other platforms.”

By midday Monday, Parler had already taken at least one step toward relaunching.

According to the Seattle Times, Parler transferred its domain name to Sammamish-based Epik, which also hosts the similar far-right social media network Gab. However, Parler still needs a new hosting provider.

Epik issued a lengthy statement Sunday castigating Twitter and Facebook for suspending accounts of Trump and his supporters. It also compared the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to ongoing protests over police brutality, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May.

In 2018, Epik announced it would stop hosting far-right message board 8chan after law enforcement linked its users to three mass shootings.

“Without smarter discernment outside of a mob-based judgement (sic) of instant convenience, the decisions we make now may ultimately be utilized to reduce liberties that many take for granted,” the statement said, according to the Seattle Times.

Despite the charged arguments, Siddoway said he hopes Groesbeck, his friend and colleague of two decades, isn’t somehow painted with the same brush as those who would use social media to spread violence.

“Attorneys get vilified because of the clients they represent. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” Siddoway said. “Everybody is entitled to their day in court.”

The Washington Post and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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