Federal Judge Strikes Down Texas Law Banning Social Media Giants From Censoring Users

Federal Judge Strikes Down Texas Law Banning Social Media Giants From Censoring Users

A federal judge has dealt a blow to a law in Texas that holds social media giants accountable for inappropriately censoring conservatives.

The measure, H.B. 20, was signed into law by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott Sept. 9 and was set to take effect Thursday, the Houston Chronicle reported. Had the measure gone into effect, it “would prevent social media companies with more than 50 million monthly users from banning individuals based on their political viewpoints,” The Blaze reported.

But, as the Chronicle noted:

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman wrote in his ruling that the measure interferes with platforms’ First Amendment right to moderate content disseminated on their platforms. Pitman called content moderation “the very tool that social media platforms employ to make their platforms safe, useful, and enjoyable for users.”

Pitman also said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled several times that private entities have the right to exercise editorial judgment and choose what they want to publish, and “cannot be compelled by the government to publish other content.” House Bill 20 also sought to allow users to sue if they are blocked from posting on a large platform or if their posts are removed which Pitman said threatens “myriad lawsuits based on individual examples of content moderation.”

Pitman also took issue with the law applying only to social media platforms with at least 50 million monthly users in the U.S., which he said would exclude platforms like Parler and other sports and news websites. He also said some of the law’s terms are “prohibitively vague.”

“This court is convinced that social media platforms, or at least those covered by HB 20, curate both users and content to convey a message about the type of community the platforms seeks to foster and, as such, exercise editorial discretion over their platform’s content,” Pitman wrote.

The Houston paper said that the Abbott administration is likely going to appeal.

Trade organizations that challenged the law said it would impinge on social media platforms’ ability to police their own sites.

“Texas’ law would have forced online platforms to pull the referees from social media sites, giving anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, and insurrectionists free reign,” Adama Kovacevich, who heads up the technology group Chamber of Progress, said in a statement to USA Today. “Today’s court decision is a big victory for social media users who want less hate speech and misinformation in their online communities.”

Other critics of the measure blasted a segment that bars email service providers from “impeding transmission of email messages based on content.” They said it would lead to an explosion of spam emails.

“The bill says you cannot ‘impede’ email based on its content, which is what every spam filter does, unless the email service provides a process for the spammer to contest the blocking,” said Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University of Law.

After signing the measure, Abbott defended the legislation, writing in a Washington Post op-ed:

The need for this law has been apparent for years, as our country’s public square has become increasingly controlled by a few powerful companies that have proved to be flawed arbiters of constructive dialogue. But two events reported last week revealed why the law is urgently needed now — and why state governments such as ours have no choice but to act.

The first was the Federal Election Commission’s ruling that Twitter did not violate campaign finance laws when it erroneously restricted the New York Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 election. This essentially gives social media giants the green light to tilt public debate away from political opinions they disagree with.

The second was the Wall Street Journal’s bombshell report about Facebook. The social media platform, it turns out, has set an alarming double standard — exempting “whitelisted” users who are influential or famous from the company’s rules of conduct, allowing them to publish content that the average user cannot.

“Because the federal government has thus far shown itself unwilling to protect citizens’ rights on these platforms, states have an obligation to act,” Abbott noted further.


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