Appeals Court Upholds Texas Social Media “Censorship” Law

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On Friday, a federal appeals court overturned a lower court’s judgment halting a Texas law that prohibits big social media platforms from deleting political messages, dealing a blow to big internet corporations that claim their content moderation choices are protected by the US Constitution. The law, which had been halted by a lower court, allows anyone to sue giant social media companies for removing political content.

“Today, we reject the concept that companies have an unfettered First Amendment right to restrict what individuals say,” Judge Andrew S. Oldham of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a conservative court, stated in the ruling. A member of the three-judge bench disagreed with parts of the decision.

Individuals or the Texas attorney general’s office may sue social media sites with more than 50 million monthly users in the United States under the law for removing political beliefs. The law is the result of conservative outrage over messages that were removed mostly because they broke the rules of the social media companies.

It comes as platforms like as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter under intense political pressure for removing material that they judge to be false, bigoted, or dangerous. Republicans have traditionally asked platforms to keep more postings up, and Democrats have urged them to be more forceful in eliminating certain information.

Lawmakers in Washington have advocated for revisions to Section 230, a law that protects platforms from responsibility for the information users publish, in order to prod the businesses to be more assertive or more tolerant. However, their initiatives have received little momentum.

After the law was enacted last year, two tech industry organizations, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, sued to halt it, claiming that social media firms had a First Amendment right to delete material they deem improper. A similar law in Florida was struck down by a separate federal court.

The Friday ruling is the latest twist in the judicial dispute over the law. A district court halted the law last year. The appeals court overturned that ruling, allowing the law to go into force. However, at the request of technology sector organizations, the Supreme Court intervened and blocked the law until the court of appeals released its entire ruling. The Friday judgment does not enable the law to take effect; instead, the appeals court must provide directions to the lower court.

An appeal of the decision might push the Supreme Court, which is dominated by conservatives, to weigh in on internet regulation, which has grown highly political since the 2016 election. Liberals have called for new restrictions on the companies to prevent the spread of harmful content and misinformation on their platforms, while conservatives have argued that the companies have gone too far in policing their sites, particularly following the companies’ 2021 decision to ban Trump following the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a measure into law earlier this week that requires giant social networks to make public their standards for how postings are processed, in response to accusations that platforms are amplifying remarks promoting murder and intolerance.

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