Former Reagan Anti-Trust Lawyer Sues Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter for $1B
Last Wednesday, Freedom Watch filed a class-action lawsuit against four social media giants, claiming that Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter acted in concert to suppress conservative speech online. Larry Klayman, founder of both Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, helped President Reagan's Justice Department break up AT&T, and two counts against the social media giants focus on anti-trust law.
Klayman appeared on Fox Business the day before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing involving Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
"I'm a former anti-trust lawyer, as you know, Charles," Klayman told Charles Payne, a co-host of the Fox Business show "Varney & Co." "I helped break up AT&T when I was a young Justice Department lawyer during the Reagan administration."
The class-action suit explicitly demands damages in excess of $1 billion for four causes of action: illegal agreement in restraint of trade, a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act; intent to monopolize, a second violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act; discrimination in violation of the Washington, D.C. code; and a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
In his brief interview on Fox Business, Klayman laid out the principle of "conscious parallelism." While the lawsuit argues that Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter consciously engaged in a conspiracy against conservatives, the conspiracy need not be conscious to be actionable under anti-trust law.
"When companies move in tandem, in parallel fashion to do the same thing, that can be restraint of trade," the Freedom Watch founder explained. "So we believe there's an actual agreement between these leftist-owned media giants like Google, Twitter, YouTube, et cetera. [But if not,] it's conscious parallelism."
According to the lawsuit, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter "have engaged in a conspiracy to intentionally and willfully suppress politically conservative content."
The suit cites many sources, including the PragerU lawsuit against Google/YouTube for discrimination against conservatives, Ben Shapiro's National Review article about discrimination through algorithms, and PJ Media Supervising Editor Paula Bolyard's article revealing 96 percent of Google search results for "Trump" news came from liberal sources. The suit also cites the more scientific Can I Rank study that backed up Bolyard's suggestions.
The Freedom Watch lawsuit also cites a Gizmodo article in which former Facebook workers confessed to suppressing conservative news. One of them admitted, "I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news."
Freedom Watch is a client, a user, and a competitor of Google, YouTube, and Facebook. The organization also suggested that a great many conservative organizations fall into the same category, and face the same kind of discrimination and monopolization that these social media companies use against Freedom Watch.
"Since Defendants, each and every one of them, have begun their conspiracy to intentionally and willfully, and/or acting in concerted parallel fashion, to suppress conservative content and refuse to deal with Freedom Watch, Freedom Watch's growth on these platforms has come to a complete halt, and its audience base and revenue generated has either plateaued or diminished," the suit claims.
The suit cites Sarah Miller, the deputy director of the Open Markets Institute, who claimed that Facebook is a "corporate monopoly." It further alleges that the social media companies "have conspired and illicitly agreed to refuse to deal and suppress media content and advocacy from Freedom Watch and those similarly situated members of the class."
In monopolistic fashion, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter "are accepting this temporary loss of revenue in order to set, control, and dominate the relevant market." The suit charges these social media companies with having "acted with a specific intent to monopolize, and to destroy effective competition in the relevant market for media and news publications."
In addition to the two anti-trust claims, Freedom Watch accused the social media companies of engaging in discrimination against conservatives on the basis of their "political affiliation," which is illegal under Washington, D.C. law. [Freedom Watch is based in the nation's capital.]
Finally, the suit argues that Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter "created, operate, and control public platforms that are for public use and public benefit and invite the public to utilize their platforms as a forum for free speech." Even so, they "act as quasi-state actors because they regulate their public platforms, thereby regulating free speech within their public forums."
Each of the social media companies "have deprived Freedom Watch and those similarly situated of its constitutional rights by censoring its content for purely political reasons. Defendants' censorship is arbitrary and capricious, and is purely viewpoint based."
While social media companies have arguably acted in concert against conservatives — PragerU has faced attacks from Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon after suing Google — the lawsuit's declaration that this is a conspiracy seems to go too far. Then again, Klayman seems to be presenting two separate arguments, to see which would gain traction before the court. If the claim of a clear conspiracy fails, the argument about "conscious parallelism" may prevail.
This lawsuit should terrify Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Klayman has an excellent pedigree on anti-trust law, and that aspect of this lawsuit seems extremely powerful. While some have called for social media companies to be treated like public utilities, the anti-trust push treats them as the private companies they are. This suit applies current law against powerful companies that do indeed verge on monopolies.
This is exactly the kind of threat that big tech needs to take seriously. The fact that these companies work with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a left-wing smear factory that recently paid a $3.375 million settlement for defamation and faces two current lawsuits and about sixty potential suits, only makes this class-action lawsuit more powerful.
Watch Klayman's appearance on "Varney & Co." below.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.