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Parler sues AWS for anti-trust and breach of contract after Amazon public cloud ban takes it offline

Stricken free speech-championing social media app suggests Amazon’s actions were motivated by a desire to ‘reduce competition’ in the microblogging social media market

Parler has accused its one-time hosting partner Amazon Web Services (AWS) of anti-trust offences, in a lawsuit filed in protest at the public cloud giant’s decision to boot the stricken social media app off its servers.

The 19-page document describes Amazon’s actions as the equivalent of “pulling the plug on a hospital patient on life support” on the basis that it will “kill Parler’s business – at the very time it is set to skyrocket”.

It also suggests Amazon’s actions were motivated by a desire to “reduce competition” within the microblogging social media market, which is dominated by Twitter, which recently signed a multi-year deal with AWS.

Since its creation in 2018, Parler has positioned itself as a “conservative” social media safe haven for individuals whose words or actions have seen them banned from mainstream social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

This includes the likes of US president Donald Trump, who saw access to his Twitter account permanently revoked on Friday 8 January 2021 after repeatedly violating its terms of service by posting false claims about election fraud corrupting the outcome of the November 2020 US presidential election.

According to the lawsuit, this course of action prompted a mass exodus of “conservative users” from Twitter to Parler, which it claims contributed towards it becoming the most downloaded app on the Apple App Store.

“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,” the law suits states.

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, AWS severed ties with free speech-championing social media site Parler after details of the platform’s involvement in co-ordinating the deadly attack on Capitol Hill by pro-president Trump supporters emerged in the days that followed.

After detailing its reasons for pulling the plug on its platform, AWS said it would terminate its hosting deal with Parler from midnight on Sunday 10 January 2021, and the site has been offline since then.

“It stated the reason for the suspension was that AWS was not confident Parler could properly police its platform regarding content that encourages or incites violence against others,” the lawsuit states.

“However, Friday night one of the top trending tweets on Twitter was ‘Hang [US vice-president] Mike Pence’. But AWS has no plans nor has it made any threats to suspend Twitter’s account.”

According to Parler’s lawsuit, AWS is now in breach of its contract with Parler – given it is supposed to provide the company with 30 days’ notice of its intention to terminate its hosting arrangement – and has also (along with Twitter) fallen foul of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. This act specifically prohibits AWS from “contracting or conspiring” to restrain trade or commerce.

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Computer Weekly contacted Twitter for comment on this story, but the company declined.

The document goes on to claim that AWS has committed “intentional interference” with Parler’s prospective growth prospects by forcing it offline at a time when “millions of users” are expected to sign up to use the platform “in the near future”.

Therefore, the intention of this “emergency lawsuit” was to acquire a temporary restraining order against AWS that would prevent it from shutting down Parler’s account by midnight on Sunday, but – at the time of writing – the site remains offline.

“Parler contracts with AWS to provide the cloud computing services Parler needs for its apps and website to function on the internet,” the lawsuit continues. “Further, that both the apps and the website are written to work with AWS’s technology. To have to switch to a different provider would require rewriting that code, meaning Parler would be offline for a financially devastating period.”

A number of other conservative-focused social media apps similar to Parler have also started to see an uptick in usage in recent times, including the likes of Gab.

The lawsuit goes on to say: “Parler’s current users are likely to leave and go to another platform if Parler is down for an indefinite period. And once those users have begun to use another platform, they may not return to Parler once it’s back online.

“And by silencing Parler, AWS silences the millions of Parler users who do not feel their free speech is protected by Twitter or other social media apps.”

In a statement to Computer Weekly, an AWS spokesperson said there were no merit to Parler’s claims, before going on to restate its reasons for severing ties with the social media platform.

“AWS provides technology and services to customers across the political spectrum, and we respect Parler’s right to determine for itself what content it will allow,” the company 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.

“We made our concerns known to Parler over a number of weeks and, 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.”

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