US Supreme Court Blocks Texas Law On Social Media ‘Censorship’

The US Supreme Court has suspended a Texas law banning online platforms from restricting user posts based on their political views, representing a major victory for social media companies. 

The 2021 law prohibits social media companies from banning users based on their poitical viewpoints  although  It will not go into effect while a the case makes its way through the US courts.

The legislation would have prevented larger technology companies, notably Facebook and Twitter, from banning or censoring Texas users for their views.

Republicans in the state said it was necessary to combat what they claimed was social media's liberal bias. But technology groups argued that the law was a violation of the private companies' freedom of speech rights. In a narrowly split decision, the Supreme Court justices granted a request from two technology industry groups that have argued the Republican-backed measure would turn platforms into “havens of the vilest expression imaginable”.

The decision does not rule on the merits of the law, known as HB20, but reimposes an injunction blocking it from taking effect while US Federal courts decide whether it can be enforced. The Supreme Court is likely to be asked to take a look at the constitutionality of the law in separate future adjudication. 

Industry groups suing against the legislation argued that it violated the right to free speech, which included the freedom of private companies to decide what content to publish on their platforms. 

Without the ability to moderate their platforms, Silicon Valley campaigners claimed that the state legislation would have turned Facebook, Twitter and YouTube into "havens of the vilest expression imaginable".

“We are encouraged that this attack on First Amendment rights has been halted until a court can fully evaluate the repercussions of Texas’s ill-conceived statute,” said Matthew Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which filed the petition. Its members include Facebook, Twitter and Google. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who signed the bill into law in September last year, said at the time that the opposite was true - that the measure was intended to prevent bias against conservative viewpoints and protect free speech.

Social media companies are "our modern-day public square" where debate should flow freely, he argued. "There is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas". Abbot commented, a remark similar to those made by Elon Musk in his $43 billion bid to buy Twitter.

The Texas law prevents social media platforms with at least 50 million monthly active users like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter from taking down posts based on a user's viewpoint. It enables users to sue the platforms if they think they have been censored because of their political views. It also allows the state's attorney general to enforce violations, a power that worried experts who study online platforms and speech. 

Florida also has a similar social media law (SB 7072) that the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently was largely unconstitutional, siding with the tech trade groups’ arguments that it violated their First Amendment rights. Similar bills have also been introduced in GOP-controlled legislatures of Michigan and Georgia.

The Texas Legislature passed the measure after outcry from Republicans over perceived anti-conservative bias among major technology companies. That charge grew when Twitter permanently banned former President Donald Trump for inciting violence and purged over 70,000 accounts linked to dangerous conspiracy groups after the deadly insurrection attack of the US Capitol which took place in January.

BBC:    Politico:       NPR:    CNBC:     Texas Tribune    NYT:     Guardian:   Independent:    Washington Post:  

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