What the Texas Anti-Censorship Law If the federal court upholds the statute, tech companies might be exposed to expensive lawsuits.
After the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided on May 11, 2022, that a Texas legislation controlling how social media companies may censor their platforms can go into force, Meta Platforms, Inc. (FB), Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL, GOOG), and Twitter Inc. (TWTR) face increased risks of an expensive lawsuit. While Alphabet owns YouTube, its parent company is Meta, which also owns Facebook.
Texas law prohibits “blocking, banning, removing, de-platforming, demonetizing, de-boost[ing], restrict[ing], deny[ing] equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminating against speech” on any social media platform having 50 million or more monthly users in the United States.
Due largely to the uncertainties inherent in the statute’s text, legal experts advise that defending against cases filed under this law may be difficult and expensive for targeted firms.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:
On May 11, 2022, a federal appeals court determined that Texas’s House Bill 20 may go into force.
This legislation exposes the largest social media companies to potential high-priced lawsuits from users who believe they have been discriminated against due to the content they post.
Many people feel the legislation is excessively broad and violates their right to free speech under the First Amendment.
The dispute might reach the highest court in the United States.
Senate Bill 20 of Texas
The Republican Party has long complained that conservatives are treated unfairly on online sites, and this complaint gave rise to Texas House Bill 20.
The statute, intended to correct this discrepancy, was halt in December 2021 when a federal district court judge decided it violated the First Amendment.
After a similar measure was reject
in Florida for the same reason, this judgment was made some months later.
Because it “prohibits practically all content moderation,” the same tool social media companies utilize to keep their platforms safe, useful, and pleasant for users, a district court judge blocked HB 20 in December 2021.
A spokeswoman for Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated in reaction to the verdict in December 2021 that “[a]llowing biassed social media firms to reject conservative content is antithetical to the free speech basis America was based on.”
Consequences That Could Be Seen:
Legal experts have raised many questions concerning the future of social media in Texas due to the new legislation. It begs the issue of whether or not social media firms can operate in that scenario, as well as what users’ online environments may look like and the types of material they might encounter.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) has, until recently, protected major U.S. social networks from liability for user-generated material.
A preemption claim under Section 230 might override the law of Texas. There’s always a chance that this case will end up before the United States Supreme Court.
Possible Reactions of Social Media Sites:
Specialized services may opt-out of using algorithms to rate and sort information. However, because of the legislation’s broad wording, a plaintiff may claim that a user has been silence since their original speech is now burie behind a mountain of spam.
It’s possible that taking away the algorithmic boost for certain material may be see as a downgrade, which is forbid under HB 20.
Taking as drastic action as leaving the state of Texas might cause issues for social media networks even if it is theoretically possible to do so. Discriminating against Texans because of where they live is likewise illegal. Leaving the state of Texas might be see as a kind of prejudice. In addition, savvy plaintiffs may argue that their device is “Texan” with the rise of VPNs even though they are physically located outside the state.
There will very certainly be other challenges against HB 20:
Shortly after the legislation was pass, the Computer & Communications Industry.
Association (CCIA) and tech lobbying group NetChoice filed suit against Texas, claiming it violated the Constitution. In response to the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, CCIA president Matt Schruers issued the following statement “This mysterious directive violates the First Amendment guarantees of free speech. We are considering all of our options. We will take all necessary steps to guarantee that the free market, not the government, determines which forms of expression digital services transmit and which do not.”
Net Choice’s vice president and general counsel Carl Szabo had this to say about the May 11 verdict: “An unpleasant and rare event occurred when a 2-1 Fifth Circuit panel lifted the injunction without finding on the merits and without writing an opinion explaining the action. We are considering our options and will file an appeal as soon as possible since HB 20 is unconstitutional.”
The May 11 judgment “will have severe ramifications for expression online,” said a statement released by attorney Scott Wilkens of The Knight First Amendment Institute, which submitted an amicus brief supporting the social media firms’ petition.
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