Donald Trump filed lawsuits against Facebook, Twitter, and Google on Wednesday, accusing the companies of violating his and other conservatives’ First Amendment rights. But winning these lawsuits seems to be beside the point for Trump.
Legal experts say these are frivolous cases likely to be thrown out of court, but Trump is already using them as a way to fundraise from supporters. The suits are also a convenient distraction from the ongoing New York state investigation into his company’s alleged tax fraud, which has been the main story about Trump in the news lately.
It’s not the first time Trump has used this tactic. During his presidency, Trump repeatedly attacked tech companies — despite the fact that he benefited enormously from his reach on social media platforms like Twitter — by making unfounded claims that these firms have anti-conservative biases. And though his attempts to penalize the tech industry with unenforceable executive orders, bogus “tech summits,” and vague threats have never seriously interfered with Facebook’s, Google’s, or Twitter’s ability to run their businesses, these efforts have served Trump well politically. He’s garnered support among his followers, collected money, and dominated headlines as a crusader against a liberal Silicon Valley. These new lawsuits seem to be no different.
At a press conference announcing the lawsuits, a representative for the America First Policy Institute, a pro-Trump nonprofit that filed the suits on behalf of the former president, encouraged anyone who’s interested in joining Trump in his class-action suits to sign up on a website. But if you go to that website, TakeOnBigTech.com, it lands on a promotional video that only links to an option for donating money to the America First Policy Institution — and it doesn’t offer a clear way to sign on to the suit.
Shortly after he announced the lawsuits, Trump started sending “breaking news alert” text messages directly to his followers that asked them to donate to his Save America PAC.
According to a New York Times reporter who posted it on Twitter, the text message to his followers reads in part:
“Pres Trump: I am SUING Facebook & Twitter for UNCONSTITUTIONAL CENSORSHIP. For a short time, 5x-IMPACT on all gifts! Donate NOW” — and it links to a website taking donations to the Save America PAC.
In addition to the fundraising opportunities, starting a new fight against Big Tech gives Trump’s supporters something else to focus on besides the headlines about how New York state prosecutors indicted the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, for tax fraud earlier this month. Prosecutors allege that Weisselberg and Trump’s company did not pay taxes on $1.7 million in indirect employee compensation. The whole case is part of a larger investigation into the former president’s company; the investigation is expected to widen, potentially becoming more damning for Trump.
In the past, Trump has frequently turned Facebook, Twitter, and Google into boogeymen for supposedly displaying anti-conservative bias, but his claims often served to distract from larger political issues. The constant accusations also seemed to put pressure on tech companies, which generally did not enforce their own rules against Trump until the final days of his presidency, when he was banned for inciting violence prior to the January 6 Capitol riot.
Now that Trump is out of office and receiving significantly less media attention, it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to sustain this latest publicity crusade against the tech giants. But there’s no doubt that at least for now, these lawsuits serve as a welcome break from news of Trump’s tax-related legal affairs — as well as a prime opportunity to raise some cash.