Parler sues Amazon (again), claims AWS ban sank a billion-dollar valuation

By | March 3, 2021
The bright screen of a notebook computer illuminates the face of the person using it.
Enlarge / A person browsing Parler in early January, before the site got into a fight with AWS.

Social media platform Parler has dropped a federal lawsuit alleging that Amazon colluded with Twitter to drive a rival offline—but in its place, the platform has filed a new state lawsuit alleging that Amazon deliberately tanked Parler’s valuation.

Parler’s new suit (PDF)—filed in King County, Washington, where Amazon is headquartered—argues mainly that Parler is no worse than the competition and that Amazon defamed and devalued it when AWS discontinued service.

The platform has been embroiled in legal battles with Amazon since January, when Amazon cut off Parler’s AWS hosting in the wake of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. Parler went offline shortly after and remained that way until mid-February.

How did we get here?

Parler launched in 2018 as a “free speech” alternative to mainstream social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook. By late 2020, it had gained a significant following among conservative and right-wing users—including far-right extremists who flocked to Parler as other platforms began to limit the spread of QAnon content.

Then everything hit the fan in the wake of the January 6 events at the US Capitol. Many of the participants in that mob livestreamed or posted photos from the Capitol on social media services, including Parler. Within a few days, both Google and Apple banned Parler from their mobile app stores, and AWS followed suit shortly thereafter.

Parler immediately filed a lawsuit against Amazon in federal court in Washington state, asking the court to force Amazon to reinstate its hosting. The judge assigned to the case rejected Parler’s request, finding that its claims against Amazon were weak at best.

Amazon, in its legal response to Parler’s lawsuit, effectively brought receipts showing more than 100 instances of violent content it had warned Parler about prior to the January 6 attack.

“If there is any breach [of contract], it is Parler’s demonstrated failure and inability to identify and remove such content,” Amazon wrote in its filing at the time. “Compelling AWS to host content that plans, encourages, and incites violence would be unprecedented.”

The road back to valuation

Parler’s new suit is unimpressed with Amazon’s claims about its old suit.

“Since its inception, Parler has carefully policed any content on its platform that incited violence,” the company claims. “To be sure, AWS had from time to time sent Parler problematic content, which content Parler immediately investigated and resolved.” Besides which, Parler argues, everyone else, including Amazon through its third-party retail marketplace, sells content that incites violence.

And when you get right down to it, Parler alleges, the real problem is money. “Just before all this occurred, Parler was about to seek funding and was valued at one billion dollars—something AWS also knew,” the suit claims. By booting Parler from AWS hosting, the argument follows, Amazon injured Parler and tanked that valuation through “deceptive and unfair trade practices,” defamation, and breach of contract.

Parler seems to be at a critical juncture in its attempt to bring itself back online, and the suit seems designed to bolster it in that endeavor. The site is back online—more or less—and under new leadership since the board fired founder and former CEO John Matze a month ago.

That board is now under the control of investor Rebekah Mercer, who seems to be trying to bring the company back as a major platform. The Wall Street Journal last year was first to report that Mercer is Parler’s biggest investor. The Mercer family, including Rebekah, are prominent supporters of several conservative cause, sites, and politicians, including former US President Donald Trump.