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Why Amazon Web Services was right to block Parler

Parler App

Amazon made the decision at the weekend to stop Parler from hosting its service on AWS, much to the chagrin of conservatives in America. 

While conservatives will argue that they are being silenced and that Amazon’s decision is ‘orwellian’, Amazon had no choice but to follow through with its ban. After all, what’s the point in having a terms of service if you don’t enforce it? 

What is Parler?

Parler bills itself as an unbiased social media platform, and while it has moderation tools, the company opts to take a light touch when it comes to removing content. It believes strongly that free speech means any speech, no matter what its users are saying, it believes they are free to say it. 

Unfortunately for Parler, it stands alone in that description of free speech. The First Amendment of the US Constitution protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. However, there are caveats to that rule. 

Firstly, the US has passed anti-discrimination laws, which means hate speech isn’t protected by the First Amendment. In fact, US law expressly prohibits First Amendment protection of speech directed at a particular individual that may incite an immediate and hostile reaction. 

That’s why Parler has become so controversial. By taking a light touch on moderation, the company has allowed hate speech to fester on its platform, with the echo chamber growing ever louder to the point that many of its users were calling for violence and threatening to kill members of the US Government, as well as the Vice President of the United States. 

Why was Parler banned from Amazon Web Services?

Parler is obviously not liable for the content on its platform thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. This means that the company can’t be targeted by lawsuits due to the content published on its platform, but that doesn’t mean that its hosting providers can’t hold it liable. 

In fact, in Amazon Web Services’ terms of service, the company states:

If we reasonably believe any of Your Content violates the law, infringes or misappropriates the rights of any third party, or otherwise violates a material term of the Agreement (including the documentation, the Service Terms, or the Acceptable Use Policy) (“Prohibited Content”), we will notify you of the Prohibited Content and may request that such content be removed from the Services or access to it be disabled. If you do not remove or disable access to the Prohibited Content within 2 business days of our notice, we may remove or disable access to the Prohibited Content or suspend the Services to the extent we are not able to remove or disable access to the Prohibited Content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, we may remove or disable access to any Prohibited Content without prior notice in connection with illegal content, where the content may disrupt or threaten the Services or in accordance with applicable law or any judicial, regulatory or other governmental order or request. In the event that we remove Your Content without prior notice, we will provide prompt notice to you unless prohibited by law. We terminate the accounts of repeat infringers in appropriate circumstances.

Amazon was arguably lenient towards Parler as the company received complaints about the social network countless times without taking any action. Had it not been for the attack on the Capitol having been planned on Parler, Amazon would likely not have taken any action at all. 

Personally, I disagree with Amazon’s leniency, as its terms of services should be applied to everyone equally. The company should hold a hard stance against any platform that wants to use AWS to advocate violence and proliferate hate speech. 

It’s not about tech firms being judge, jury and executioner, but it’s about enforcing their reasonable policies. No one is silencing voices, they are simply holding them to account. Republicans are free to disagree with Government overreach, abortion, or universal healthcare, as long as the conversation stays respectful and doesn’t threaten violence or dangerously mislead. If Republicans don’t find that acceptable, then maybe the issue is them, not big tech.

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