Supreme Court Blocks Texas Social Media Law Against High Tech Industry

A person walking on the sidewalk near the US Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC, February 16, 2022.

John Cherry | Reuters

Tuesday Supreme Court I was blocked The controversial Texas social media law comes into force after warnings from the tech industry and other opponents that bad content can be rampant online.

The decision does not govern the merits of the law known as HB20However, while the federal court is deciding whether it can be enforced, it will re-impose an injunction to prevent it from taking effect. The Supreme Court is likely to be asked to consider the constitutionality of the law in the future.

Five judges in court have so far voted to block the law. Judge Samuel Alito has issued a written opposition to the decision, with the addition of two other conservative judges, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. Liberal Judge Elena Kagan also voted to allow the law to remain in force while the law is pending.

The law prohibits online platforms from moderating or removing content from a perspective.This is the leading social media platform based in California Facebook When twitter They are biased towards a quiet, conservative voice that is disproportionate to their moderation strategy. The platform applies community guidelines evenly, stating that users to the right are often ranked as the users with the highest engagement.

Two industry groups representing technology companies, including: AmazonFacebook, Google In an urgent application with the court, Twitter said, “HB20 claims Russian propaganda to justify invasion of Ukraine, ISIS propaganda claims to justify extremism, neo-Nazis, or KKK the Holocaust. Denies or supports and encourages children to take dangerous or unhealthy behaviors such as eating disorders. “

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said it wasn’t. Response to urgent applications The law does not “prohibit the platform from deleting the entire category of content.”

“For example, the platform can decide to eliminate pornography without violating HB 20 … the platform can also ban foreign government speeches without violating HB 20 in Russia on Ukraine. You don’t have to host propaganda .. “

Alito’s dissenting began by recognizing the importance of proceedings to social media companies and the states that regulate how they control content on the platform.

“This application concerns a very important issue that clearly deserves this court’s review,” Arito wrote. “Social media platforms have transformed the way people communicate with each other and get news. The problem is the dominant social media companies that form public debates about the key issues of the day. A groundbreaking Texas law that deals with power. “

Arito said the law would have allowed it to remain in force while the case passed federal court. He emphasized that “it does not form a definitive view on the new legal issues that arise from Texas’ decision to deal with the” changing social and economic “conditions that Texas is aware of.”

“But that’s exactly why I’m reluctant to intervene in the proceedings at this point,” he wrote. “While the court’s explicit desire to postpone the enforcement of HB20 while the appeal is pending is understandable, the provisional injunction entered by the district court is itself a serious intrusion into state sovereignty. , Texas does not need to seek prior permission from federal courts before the law comes into force. “

Where things are standing now

The bill was passed in September, but was blocked by a lower court and a provisional injunction was granted to prevent the bill from coming into effect.That changed when the Federal Court of Appeals appealed the fifth circuit. Judgment to maintain injunction in mid-May It means that the law may be enacted until the final decision of the case is made, that is, while the court is discussing a wider case.

As a result, two technology industry groups were born: NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA). Submit an urgent petition With Arito assigned to the incident from that district.

NetChoice and CCIA Asked the court To prevent the law from coming into force, social media companies made editorial decisions about what content to deliver and display, arguing that the Court of Appeals’ decision would remove that discretion and cool remarks. The Court of Appeals said the court should suspend the stay as it is considering the important First Amendment issue at the heart of the case.

“The Texas HB20 is a constitutional shipwreck, and as the district court said, it’s an example of’burning a house and burning pigs’,” NetChoice lawyer Chris Marchese said in response to Tuesday’s ruling. Stated. “The First Amendment to the United States, the Open Internet, and its dependent users are reassured that they remain protected from the unconstitutional overkill of Texas.”

“Online platforms, websites and newspapers should not be instructed by government officials to give specific speeches,” said CCIA Chairman Matt Schluer. “This has been an important belief in our democracy for over 200 years, and the Supreme Court has endorsed it.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling also affects other states that may consider similar legislation as Texas. The Florida Parliament has already passed a similar social media law, but so far it has been blocked by courts.

Immediately after the Technical Group’s emergency appeal in a Texas case, the Federal Court of Appeals in the 11th Circuit Supported an injunction against a similar law in Florida, Unanimously concludes that content moderation is protected by the Constitution.Florida Attorney General Amikas briefs On behalf of her state and several other states, she asked the court to continue to allow Texas law to come into force, the industry misinterpreted the law, and the state was thus within the right to regulate its business. Claimed to be in.

Parliamentary test site

State law serves as an early test site for how the US Congress is considering reforming legal liability. Shielded technology platforms have relied on for years to moderate their services. That law, Communication Good Sense Law Article 230The online platform makes it unresponsible for the content that users post to the service and also provides the ability to moderate or delete posts in good faith.

The law has been criticized by both Democrats and Republicans for different reasons. The Democratic Party aims to amend the law to give the technology platform responsibility to mitigate what it considers to be dangerous content, including false information. Republicans agree that certain types of content, such as terrorist recruitment and child sexual exploitation material, need to be removed, but many have other forms that the platform considers to be ideological censorship. I’m trying to make it difficult to engage in moderation.

One of the authors of Section 230, former MP Christopher Cox, R-Calif. teeth, Amikas briefs The Supreme Court upholds a plea of ​​industry groups to cancel their stay. Simply put, Cox claims that the HB20 is “in an irreconcilable conflict” with Section 230, which should take precedence over state law.

Still, at least one judge in the Supreme Court Already interested in reviewing Section 230 itself..

In 2020, conservative Thomas I have written “When appropriate, we need to consider whether the text of this increasingly important statute is consistent with the current state of disclaimer enjoyed by the Internet platform.”

Last year, he agreed, suggesting that the online platform could be “sufficiently similar to the location of a common carrier or accommodation regulated in this way.”

–Dan Mangan of CNBC contributed to this report.

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View: A nasty business of content moderation on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

Supreme Court Blocks Texas Social Media Law Against High Tech Industry

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