By Elizabeth Culliford and Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Thursday rejected Parler’s demand that Amazon.com Inc restore web hosting services for the social media platform, which Amazon had cut off following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle said Parler was unlikely to prove Amazon breached its contract or violated antitrust law by suspending service on Jan. 10, and that it was “not a close call.”
She also forcefully rejected the suggestion that the public interest would be served by a preliminary injunction requiring Amazon Web Services to “host the kind of abusive, violent content at issue in this case, particularly in light of the recent riots at the U.S. Capitol.”
“That event,” she added, “was a tragic reminder that inflammatory rhetoric can – more swiftly and easily than many of us would have hoped – turn a lawful protest into a violent insurrection.”
Parler was not immediately available for comment.
“We welcome the court’s careful ruling,” an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement. “This was not a case about free speech. It was about a customer that consistently violated our terms of service.”
Amazon said Parler ignored repeated warnings to effectively moderate the growth on its website of violent content, which included calls to assassinate prominent Democratic politicians, leading business executives and members of the media.
Researchers have said far-right groups at the Capitol had a vigorous online presence on platforms including Parler, where they spread violent rhetoric.
Parler said there was no evidence apart from anecdotes in the press that it had a role in inciting the riots, and that it was unfair to deprive millions of law-abiding Americans a platform for free speech.
It also said Amazon had no right to threaten its “extinction” by pulling the plug, and had been motivated by “political animus” to benefit Twitter Inc, a larger Amazon client that Parler said did not censor violent content targeting conservatives.
Rothstein rejected that argument, saying Parler had merely raised the “specter of preferential treatment” for Twitter.
Many supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump favor Parler, which has claimed it had more than 12 million users.
Parler remains largely offline after being dropped by Seattle-based Amazon and the app stores of Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google following the Washington unrest.
Parler Chief Executive Officer John Matze told Reuters on Jan. 13 that Parler may be offline for good, but later pledged it would return stronger.
Matze and his family were forced to “go into hiding” after receiving death threats, his lawyer said on Jan. 15.
A static version of Parler’s website recently returned, including a notice saying Parler was having technical difficulties, and a handful of posts from people like Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.
Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Wernick said on Tuesday that Parler was posting comments on behalf of “friends who reached out.”
The site’s internet protocol address is owned by DDos-Guard, which is controlled by two Russian men and provides protection from distributed denial-of-service attacks, according to infrastructure expert Ronald Guilmette.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Katie Paul in San Francisco; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Rosalba O’Brien & Shri Navaratnam)