Is it time for shareholders to sue Big Tech?

In recent weeks, the Big Tech companies and their political allies have doubled down on their efforts to censor conservative voices.  These purely political decisions have hurt stock values.  Maybe it's time for shareholders to speak up in the courts.

In January alone, President Trump was banned from Twitter.  Amazon Web Services terminated its services with Parler.  Apple and Google removed Parler from their app stores, not that it matters now.  Brandon Straka's "Walk Away" group was removed by Facebook.  Ron Paul was suspended from managing his Facebook page.  Why?  Facebook refused to provide a specific reason.

Though this is often framed as a Constitutional "free speech" issue, government bureaucrats are not the ones directly censoring conservative voices.  However, with the revolving door between Big Tech companies' executive teams and Democrat administrations, that line has certainly been blurred.

It is unclear whether antitrust claims will gain any traction at this point, or exactly how repealing or modifying Section 230 would work.  However, there might be another way to apply pressure to Big Tech companies to refocus them on running their businesses instead of playing politics.

All of the large companies taking these politically tainted, totalitarian actions are publicly traded companies.  They have shareholders who still (last I checked) have legal rights under American law.  Shareholder suits for corporate malfeasance have established legal precedent in America.

Big Tech managements' politically motivated decisions regarding whom to allow or ban do have a financial side-effect: lost revenue and destroyed shareholder value.  Twitter's stock price close at its IPO in 2013 was $43.98.  Twitter's market cap lost roughly $5 billion after announcing it had banned President Trump from its platform.  At the time of this article, Twitter was trading at around $45.18, which is not exactly a great seven-year return for the discerning long-term investor.  Facebook and Amazon stocks have also taken hits this month.

This month, Amazon Web Services announced it had terminated hosting Parler, a start-up social media company competing with Twitter.  In December, however, Twitter announced that it would use Amazon Web Services to host user feeds.  A week after canceling its agreement with Parler, Amazon stock is down $78.45.

Why sign Twitter and terminate Parler?  Politics, of course, and perhaps some flexing of its monopolistic muscle.  How much was the Parler account potentially worth to Amazon shareholders?  We may never know.

To compound the problem of lost ad revenue, Big Tech companies also increase expenses by devoting development and personnel resources to support the censorship.  Facebook announced earlier this year that it had hired an additional 10,000 workers for its product and engineering teams and said it needed to hire even more.  How many of these employees work to program algorithms or manually sift through posts solely to seek conservative accounts to ban?  It's safe to say that the political censorship Big Tech engages in requires some effort, and therefore expense.

How much money have Big Tech investors lost due to the corporate malfeasance of Big Tech management?  A precise answer is hard to determine, but it is likely significant.  Big Tech board members and executives certainly understand before they take their politically motivated actions and efforts that they will destroy shareholder value.  Yet they take these actions anyway.  And according to Jack Dorsey at Twitter, more censorship is on the way.  This can't be good for shareholders.

Either create a political action committee and play politics as the company's sole focus or run a publicly traded business.  Disguising a PAC as a publicly traded company is hurting shareholders.

Do shareholders of publicly traded companies have any legal expectations for corporations not to sacrifice value by taking arbitrary, politically motivated decisions?  It's time we ask the question.

Image: Banknotes and judge's gavel by George Hodan. CC0 Public Domain.