Friday, December 2, 2022
Home TECH Federal appeals court upholds controversial Texas social media law restricting content moderation

Federal appeals court upholds controversial Texas social media law restricting content moderation

The Texas law, known as HB 20, does not violate the First Amendment rights of tech platforms by requiring them to submit speech they find objectionable, according to a decision by a three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Today we reject the idea that corporations have a free First Amendment right to censor what people say,” the justices wrote.

The decision is a defeat for the tech industry, which had sued to block the law, saying it was unconstitutional. Earlier this year, another appeals court blocked a similar law from going into effect in Florida, citing the same arguments.

Texas officials passed HB 20 last year amid accusations that tech platforms unfairly censor conservative speech. Social media companies have widely denied the claims, but Texas law places broad obligations on platforms, prohibiting them from moving to “block, ban, remove, remove platform, demonetize, depower, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate the expression”.

Leading legal experts have said that if HB 20 survives legal challenge, tech companies would be forced to host spam, hate speech, pornography and other legal but problematic material on their platforms to comply with the text of the law. . It could also serve as a model for other states. More broadly, they have said, allowing the government to compel private parties to host speeches would reverse decades of First Amendment precedent, which has held that the government cannot compel private speeches.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton celebrated the court’s ruling in a cheepsaying, “Just won a HUGE WIN for the Constitution and free speech in federal court: #BigTech CANNOT censor ANY Texan’s political voices!”

The Computer and Communications Industry Association, one of the technology trade groups that sued to block the law, said it disagreed with the court’s decision.

“Forcing private companies to treat all viewpoints equally on their platforms puts foreign propaganda and extremism on an equal footing with decent internet users and puts Americans at risk,” said Matt Schruers. , president of CCIA. “‘God Bless America’ and ‘Death to America’ are points of view, and it is reckless and unconstitutional for the state of Texas to force a private company to treat them the same way.”

Since the Fifth Circuit reached a different conclusion from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on similar issues, the stage is set for the matter to be decided in the Supreme Court.

In May, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked HB 20 takes effect in an emergency decision while the litigation continues. The 5-4 vote sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit, resulting in Friday’s result upholding HB 20. The Fifth Circuit’s decision does not undo the Supreme Court’s decision to suspend the law.

However, dissenting from his colleagues, Judge Samuel Alito wrote that the HB 20 litigation raises “highly important” questions regarding a “groundbreaking” law that addresses “the power of dominant social media corporations to shape public discussion of the important issues of the day.


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