NEW YORK—Former President Trump filed a class-action lawsuit today against Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, claiming the platform violated his First Amendment rights when it deplatformed him following the events of January 6. The former president is expected to file similar lawsuits against other social media companies and their CEOs.

The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

This lawsuit is a stunt and it’s unlikely to find traction in the courts. The argument here that Facebook should be considered a state actor is not at all persuasive. It’s also difficult to square the arguments in the lawsuit with President Trump’s actions in office. The complaint argues that legislators coerced Facebook into censoring speech, but no government actor engaged in this kind of coercion more brazenly than Trump himself. 

There is an important debate to be had about what kinds of obligations the First Amendment may impose on private actors that have so much influence over public discourse, and about how much leeway the First Amendment gives to Congress to regulate the activities of those private actors. But this complaint is not likely to add much to that debate.

In 2017, the Knight Institute filed a legal challenge in federal court against Trump and his aides for blocking seven people from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account based on their criticism of his presidency and policies. The district court ruled in 2018 that the president’s Twitter account constitutes a “public forum” under the First Amendment and that the president acted unconstitutionally when he blocked speakers from that account on the basis of viewpoint. In 2019, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Second Circuit affirmed that ruling, and subsequently, in a 7-2 vote, the court rejected a request by the Trump administration for a full-court review. The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to hear the case but abandoned the request on the eve of President Biden’s inauguration, stating that the case would become moot when President Trump left office. In April, the Court vacated the appeals court decision without addressing the merits of the case.

Read more about Knight Institute v. Trump here

For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, communications director, [email protected]