The United States Supreme Court suspended a Texas law (opens in new tab) this would severely restrict the ability of social media platforms to moderate the content posted on their websites. The law, which took effect in May, says platforms with more than 50 million monthly active users “cannot censor a user, a user’s expressions, or a user’s ability to receive someone else’s expression”, with based on a person’s point of view. view or geographic location.”
Texas law, HB20 (opens in new tab), passed in September 2021 but was blocked a few months later by a federal court claiming it would likely violate the First Amendment. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals suspended that injunction in May, however, allowing the law to take effect immediately. As reported by Washington Post (opens in new tab)however, the Supreme Court voted to suspend the law following an emergency call from Google, Facebook, Twitter and other tech industry heavyweights.
This is not the end of the battle. As the Post explained, Texas and Florida have laws designed to counterbalance the tech industry’s alleged bias against “conservative” viewpoints, and if the regional appeals courts for each reach different determinations of legality – simplistically, if Texas say the law is constitutional and Florida says it is not – then the whole thing could end up in front of the Supreme Court for a final decision. It is a process that can take a long time to complete completely.
It can also have a big impact on how social media companies manage their platforms. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton described social media platforms as “21st century descendants of telegraph and telephone companies” and said that as a result they should be treated like regular carriers – essentially the same as telephony, which are legally prohibited from regulating or restricting access based on the content of the calls. Ironically, ISPs in the US – the real data carriers – were briefly designated common carriers (opens in new tab)but it had that designation withdrawn by the FCC (opens in new tab) in 2017.
Tech companies and lobby groups, however, have warned that restricting the moderation features of social media platforms would lead to the proliferation of objectionable content, including racism, calls to violence and videos posted by terrorists and mass murderers.
“As we debate how to stop more senseless acts of violence, Texas law would force social media to host racist, hateful and extremist posts,” House of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich said in a statement. declaration (opens in new tab). “The anti-content moderation laws are so actively harmful that our nation’s highest court has made an emergency appeal to stop this law from taking effect.”
For now, the Texas Fifth Court is still working to determine whether HB20, or any part of it, violates the First Amendment. A trip to the Supreme Court might be how it ends: Shortly after the lifting of the injunction against Texas law in May, a Florida appeals court ruled in reverse (opens in new tab)declaring that content moderation and curation, even on major social media platforms, is “constitutionally protected expressive activity”.