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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Capitol riot and tech firms' sweeping attempt in its wake to dislodge the online far right are kicking up efforts to have the courts settle knotty questions about online speech and power.

Why it matters: Legal battles could force the people angry at Big Tech to bring more rigor to arguments that have often devolved into messy sideshows.

What's happening: Conservatives have insisted for years that Silicon Valley is biased against them, but the Capitol siege and subsequent deplatforming are drawing sharper battle lines between the mainstream and the online right. Parties on either side are this week pleading with judges and prosecutors to intervene.

Parler vs. Amazon: Parler sued Amazon after its AWS unit kicked the right-wing-friendly social network off its hosting due to violent threats made on the platform before the Capitol siege. Parler contends Amazon breached its contract and is breaking antitrust laws, hurting Parler to benefit Twitter, another AWS client.

  • In a hearing Thursday, Parler's attorney said "millions of law-abiding Americans have had their voices silenced by AWS's decision," which he contended was made without sufficient notice. He didn't raise the antitrust claims — widely viewed as weak, relying on claims of collusion between Amazon and Twitter that Parler has made no attempt to prove.
  • Amazon argued it had the right to terminate service immediately and said Parler has shown itself unwilling and unable to develop a moderation plan for keeping harmful content off the platform.

Rumble vs. Google: Toronto-based Rumble, an increasingly popular streaming-video platform on the right, sued Google, accusing it of steering users of its search engine to YouTube over competing video services.

  • “We will defend ourselves against these baseless claims," a Google spokesperson said.

ADL v. Gab: No civil suits have been filed or threatened, but the ADL is calling on right-wing-friendly social network Gab to potentially be held criminally liable for Capitol riot mobilization on its platform. Section 230, which shields online platforms from civil liability over user-posted content, doesn't apply to federal crimes.

  • The group, per a Wednesday letter, wants the Justice Department and FBI to open a criminal investigation into whether Gab "intentionally aided, conspired with, or directed individuals to carry out the January 6 attack."
  • "The ADL should be calling for an investigation into Facebook, where the protests were actually organized," Gab CEO Andrew Torba countered in a blog post. "Gab is great for a lot of things, but it’s not a utility for organizing events."

Between the lines: The Parler and Rumble suits, as well as the prospect of Gab being prosecuted, are all viewed as long shots.

  • The Rumble lawsuit most closely resembles other serious litigation targeting tech giants, with allegations of self-preferencing in search at the heart of an antitrust suit that dozens of state attorneys general filed against Google last month.
  • But Rumble still faces an uphill battle. The company would have to convince a judge to accept a novel interpretation of existing antitrust laws to account for new technology — a tough sell.

"Antitrust is a blunt instrument, not well-suited to thorny questions about how to balance free speech interests, especially content that may be lawful but awful," said Avery Gardiner, general counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology and a former DOJ antitrust lawyer.

Our thought bubble: The calls for intervention from judges and prosecutors, more than serious legal arguments, are an attempt to formalize an expression of rage on either side.

  • Still, that anger isn't going away, and neither are major tech firms' efforts to tamp down on violent and threatening rhetoric. Expect to see more lawsuits and calls for prosecution ahead.

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - Technology

Big Tech bolts politics

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Big Tech fed politics. Then it bled politics. Now it wants to be dead to politics. 

Why it matters: The social platforms that profited massively on politics and free speech suddenly want a way out — or at least a way to hide until the heat cools. 

Schumer says Senate will stay through weekend to vote on COVID relief

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) of going to "ridiculous lengths" to show his opposition to a COVID relief package widely supported by the American public, after Johnson demanded that the entire 600-page bill be read on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Johnson's procedural move will likely add 10 hours to the 20 hours already allotted for debate, during which Republicans will propose amendments to force uncomfortable votes for Democrats. Schumer promised that the Senate will stay in session "no matter how long it takes" to finish voting on the $1.7 trillion rescue package.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
48 mins ago - Economy & Business

Why gas prices are back up

Data: EIA and FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Gas prices are hitting new post-pandemic highs across the country, but this isn't a story of America reopening. It's really just a function of the price of oil going up.

By the numbers: Gasoline cost $2.71 on average as of Monday, per the Energy Information Administration. The highest average price was $3.59 in Los Angeles, while the lowest was $2.33 in Houston.

  • All of these prices represent the highest level seen since 2019.

The big picture: The price of crude oil reflects more than half of the cost of a gallon of gasoline. (The rest is refinery costs, distribution costs, and taxes.)

  • Demand for oil has actually been declining, per the New York Fed, but supply has been falling even faster, with the result that prices have now topped $64 for a barrel of Brent crude.