Fight continues against controversial Texas social media law

Last week, a federal appeals court reinstated a controversial Texas law that prohibits major social media companies from moderating user content based on their views.

The legislation was previously on hold due to a lawsuit by technology advocacy groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which claimed the legislation violated First Amendment rights.

Now that the legal challenge has been resolved, Texas residents can sue social media companies like Facebook and Twitter for censoring their content.

“The bottom line right now is that it was reinstated without any court rulings ruling on the constitutionality of the law,” said David Greene, senior attorney and civil liberties director for the Electronic Frontier. Foundation (EFF). “The only decision we have so far is from the trial judge who initially ruled it unconstitutional.”

However, the appeals court has yet to rule on the law’s constitutionality, which raises a key question.

“It’s just bad legal process,” Greene explained. “If you’re going to enforce a law, you have to release a written explanation of why that’s the case; that’s not how the process is supposed to work.”

As a result, the EFF, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Texas, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Center for Democracy and Technology and other advocacy groups have filed demands with of the Supreme Court of the United States to issue an emergency order. to block the lower court’s decision.

“If this content moderation law is allowed to go into effect, it would go against the precedent set by the Supreme Court in protecting editorial discretion, and it could wreak havoc on the user experience. on social media,” said ACLU attorney Vera Eidelman. Speech, Privacy and Technology Project says via email. “We urge the Supreme Court to block this unconstitutional law and protect the First Amendment rights of publishers around the world.”

One of the ways the bill could impact the experience of social media users is through an increase in harmful speech online.

“While large-scale content moderation is difficult to achieve, it blocks content that some users don’t want to see, such as personal abuse and harassment, hate speech, promotion of suicide and self-harm, and the glorification of Nazi ideology,” EFF said in a statement.

Now that the legislation is in effect, all view-based content moderation practices will have to be ignored or modified to fit within the parameters of the bill, the EFF statement explained.

But not all aspects of the bill are so simple or easy to understand.

“Right now, Texas law is in effect, but no one knows exactly what that means, and no one knows what to do about it,” said Jennifer Stisa Granick, Surveillance and Cybersecurity Advisor for the ACLU Speech Project. , Privacy and Technology. . “You watch pundits discuss the effect of the bill on Twitter, and the only real thing you can say is that it’s not clear what the platforms are supposed to do or what’s legal. or illegal. It’s quite chaotic.

For Texas residents, Granick said, the law provides that people could sue based on an argument that their post was taken down or treated in some way differently from other content.

The difficulty with this is that almost every piece of content on the internet is treated differently from the others. “When you search on Google, there’s the first search result and the second search result. Those were treated differently, and there are reasons for that,” Granick said.

She explained that when it comes to social media platforms, they make these decisions because it’s their first amendment right and what they think is appealing to their users to keep them on the platform and run ads. which bring in money.

“We’ll have to wait and see the Supreme Court’s response and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision,” Greene said. “If the Fifth Circuit sticks to the law, I think we’ll see other states pass similar laws fairly quickly.”

As for Texas’ response to the Supreme Court’s request to suspend the bill, State Attorney General Ken Paxton argued that the legislation does not infringe on the speech rights of tech platforms, but instead seeks to regulate the conduct of social media companies regarding their users.

“Even though the law raised First Amendment concerns, those concerns are adequately addressed because the bill defines social media companies as ‘common carriers’ similar to telephone companies and railroads” , Paxton said in a petition to the Supreme Court.

Only time will tell as Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito considers motions regarding the law.

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