Parler, a social network embraced by right-wing groups, lobbed a new lawsuit against Amazon in King County Superior Court, two weeks after Parler’s relaunch rendered moot its original accusation in federal court that Amazon had effectively killed its business.
The move, Amazon attorneys said in a filing Wednesday kicking the suit back to federal court, is “an extreme attempt to forum shop.” After a federal judge last month denied Parler’s request that she force Amazon to reconnect the social network to its cloud-computing services, Parler, Amazon contends, is seeking a new hearing before a new judge in “a transparent effort to evade this Court’s dim view of the merits of Parler’s claims. But Parler’s scheme is futile.”
Parler’s new lawsuit, filed late Tuesday, alleges a host of contractual offenses, as well as deceptive and unfair trade practices and defamation. The complaint casts Parler as a “victim of Amazon’s efforts to destroy an up-and-coming technology through deceptive, defamatory, anticompetitive, and bad faith conduct.” Parler is seeking unspecified monetary damages.
Parler’s original lawsuit, filed in January in Seattle’s federal District Court, contained largely “the same nucleus of facts,” Amazon wrote in its filing Wednesday: Billed primarily as an antitrust action, that suit accused Amazon of collaborating with Twitter to sink Parler’s business. Parler voluntarily dismissed that suit late Tuesday, an hour before a court-imposed deadline to file an amended complaint in the case.
Amazon Web Services (AWS), the Seattle tech giant’s cloud-computing division, stopped working with Parler in January over what Amazon said was Parler’s inability to moderate violent content of the kind that spurred supporters of former President Donald Trump to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Parler, which bills itself as an unmoderated alternative to Twitter, has been linked to the insurrection by media reports and federal charging documents indicating Parler users participated in the deadly riot. Parler has said AWS did not express concern about its content moderation practices until after the Capitol riot.
Parler, though, has said that Amazon’s primary motivation in pulling the plug on its services was in support of Twitter, a new AWS client. After Twitter banned Trump, Parler has said in court filings, he considered starting an account on Parler, which could have siphoned many of his 90 million followers from Twitter to Parler.
Parler has also argued in its new suit that the problematic content Amazon presented as a rationale for taking it off the web represented only a minuscule fraction of all posts and comments on Parler. Banning Parler from AWS for hosting problematic content is hypocritical, given the amount of merchandise for sale on Amazon.com that promotes or glorifies violence, the suit said.
“There is no merit to these claims,” an AWS spokesperson said in a statement. “As shown by the evidence in Parler’s federal lawsuit, it was clear that there was significant content on Parler that encouraged and incited violence against others, which is a violation of our terms of service.”
Amazon’s decision to cut ties with Parler temporarily wiped the social network from the web, costing it hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue, the new suit contends. Moreover, Amazon’s claims that Parler was “unwilling or unable” to remove problematic content were false, Parler said in its new suit, and had the effect of defaming the website to the extent that other large cloud-computing providers have been unwilling to work with the network.
Parler clambered online two weeks ago, hosted by SkySilk, a Los Angeles-based cloud-computing outfit so small that network security experts have questioned whether its systems are robust enough to protect Parler from digital attacks.
Parler is operating on a smaller scale than it did before the Capitol riot. In addition to being kicked off AWS, Google and Apple booted Parler from their mobile app stores, confining the social network’s relaunch to a browser-only application, which is plagued by glitches.
“Parler has been unable to regain the reputation and success it enjoyed before AWS terminated its services,” Parler wrote in its new complaint. “Not surprisingly, when an internet-based company cannot get on the internet, the damage is extraordinary.”
In the six weeks that Parler was dormant, it lost “tens of millions of current and prospective users” to other channels, according to the new complaint. The messaging app Gab is one such popular Parler alternative; a hacker collective Monday released a trove of private messages sent on Gab by more than 15,000 users.
As Parler has struggled to return from the sidelines, it has seen an executive shake-up. Former CEO John Matze was ousted last month on orders from founding Parler investor and prominent Trump backer Rebekah Mercer, who has become more active in managing the company alongside incoming Parler executive Mark Meckler, the former leader of the right-wing political organization Tea Party Patriots.
Parler’s legal team has also seen changes. The company was initially represented by Spokane attorney David Groesbeck, whose inexperience with complex corporate litigation made him a seemingly odd choice to go up against one of the largest corporations in the world.
Groesbeck submitted Parler’s original complaint one day late because, he said, he had been locked out of his online federal docket account. The mistake cost Parler the opportunity to ask the judge for a temporary restraining order barring Amazon from taking the social network offline.
Groesbeck, though, has taken back seat on Parler’s legal team. Three high-powered lawyers have given the court notice that they’ll be handling Parler’s suit: Angelo Calfo, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Seattle region with experience handling complex commercial suits; and white-shoe Washington, D.C., litigators Chris Bartolomucci and Gene Schaerr, who specialize in trials concerning hot-button conservative issues.
Parler’s new complaint “is another step in our effort to hold Amazon responsible for falsely attempting to make Parler the scapegoat for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and for the enormous damage caused by Amazon’s illegal actions,” Schaerr said in a statement.