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US Supreme Court Sides With Social Media Firms, Stops Texas Law

 |  June 1, 2022

Social media firms like Facebook or Twitter got an important court victory after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling suspending a Texas law that aims to prohibit online platforms from suppressing user posts based on their political views.

In a split 5-4 vote Monday (May 31), the court granted an emergency stay request from tech industry groups that petitioned to block the law, which is currently being appealed in a federal appellate court. The tech groups warned that the law could unleash a torrent of hate speech and disinformation on their platforms.

“This ruling means that private American companies will have an opportunity to be heard in court before they are forced to disseminate vile, abusive or extremist content under this Texas law,” said Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, in a statement.

A federal district judge in Austin last December held that social media platforms have a First Amendment right to moderate content disseminated on their platforms and issued a preliminary injunction that suspended enforcing of the law, known as HB20.

But the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay on May 11 that allowed Texas to begin enforcing the regulations while the litigation continued. The law also allows the state of Texas and any individual to sue companies if they “censor” an individual based on their viewpoints or their geographic location by banning them or blocking, removing or discriminating against their posts.

The Supreme Court’s order nullified this stay, meaning Texas law will remain on hold until the litigation over the legality of the law ends. The Supreme Court’s order didn’t decide on the merits of HB20.

Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett granted the stay, which overturned the Fifth Circuit ruling.

HB20 could change the way social media companies operate and moderate content on their platforms. Many other laws around the world are forcing social media companies to remove harmful and illegal content; even the U.S. has introduced a few laws that include some forms of light content moderation. According to the tech industry and its supporters, this particular law could open a back door to hate speech and violent rhetoric if it is construed as “viewpoints” on platforms.

This is not the only state law affecting social media companies’ ability to apply content moderation policies. Florida has a similar social media law (SB 7072) that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week was largely unconstitutional, siding with the tech trade group’s arguments that it violated their First Amendment rights. Similar bills have also been introduced in Michigan and Georgia.

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