Tech group asks Supreme Court to freeze Texas social media law : NPR

An industry group representing big tech companies including Google, Facebook and Twitter is asking the Supreme Court to block a Texas social media law from taking effect.

DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images

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DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images

An industry group representing big tech companies including Google, Facebook and Twitter is asking the Supreme Court to block a Texas social media law from taking effect.

DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images

Texas’ new social media law would force sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to run Russian propaganda, posts promoting eating disorders and racist screeds like the one allegedly posted online by the shooter who allegedly killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY. store last weekend, according to tech industry groups trying to crush it in court.

That’s not, of course, the way the Republicans in Texas who support the law, past last year, see it. Republican lawmakers say it will prevent major social media platforms from removing posts or banning users based on their political views. It is based on long-standing accusations from the right that Silicon Valley companies censor conservatives, which tech companies deny.

In December, a federal judge prevented the law from coming into force while trade groups representing Facebook, Google and other tech platforms have challenged its constitutionality. Then last week, the New Orleans Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision, allowing the law to be enforced. Now, tech groups have asked the US Supreme Court for an emergency ruling to block the law. This decision could come as soon as this week.

What does the law do?

Tech companies have tightened their rules on what people can post to reduce the spread of potentially dangerous misinformation, whether it’s voting, COVID, the war in Ukraine or online abuse and harassment. .

Texas law targets these content moderation practices squarely. It allows social media users to sue major social platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter if they believe they have been banned or their posts have been removed due to their political views.

“Once these companies became ‘dominant digital platforms,’ they began to deny access to their services based on the views of their customers,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Wednesday. , in a folder. He cited as an example Facebook’s ban on claiming the coronavirus was man-made, a policy the company implemented in February 2021 but reversed months later.

Platform policies have come under increasing scrutiny. Texas law is much like Florida’s, which now stands while a lawsuit works its way through the courts. A Michigan lawmaker introduced similar legislation. Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk said part of his motivation for buying Twitter was to limit what he sees as excessive rules.

What’s wrong with letting people sue if they believe they’ve been treated unfairly?

Opponents warn that Texas law would prevent platforms from removing content that, while not illegal, could be harmful.

In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Adam Kovacevich, CEO of tech lobby group Chamber of Progress, discussed the document allegedly released by the Buffalo shooter, which most tech platforms blocked following the shooting. deadly.

“What is clear in the wake of this tragedy is that we must do everything in our power to prevent white supremacist ideologies like replacement theory from further radicalizing Americans,” Kovacevich said. “But this is in direct conflict with this Texas law, which explicitly prevents social media platforms from removing user content even when it promotes racism or terrorism.”

Additionally, the industry argues the law violates the First Amendment by requiring social networks to host content they oppose.

It “deprives private online companies of their free speech, prohibits them from making constitutionally protected editorial decisions, and forces them to publish and promote objectionable content,” said Chris Marchese of NetChoice, one of the industry groups challenging the law. “Left standing, Texas HB 20 will overturn the First Amendment – to violate free speech, the government need only pretend to ‘protect’ it.”

Civil rights groups, which often complain that social media isn’t doing enough to stop the spread of dangerous content, are also asking the Supreme Court to suspend the law.

If allowed to remain in effect, “chaos will ensue online with disastrous and irreparable consequences”, said a support memory of 19 groups including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League.

The law would also put tech companies in a difficult legal position, given speech laws in other countries, such as Germany’s ban on Holocaust denial and the display of Nazi symbols, according to the memory.

How does Texas uphold the law?

Texas urged the Supreme Court to keep the law in force in its Wednesday depositclaiming that the law protects the freedom of expression of people who would otherwise be censored.

The law is “designed to ensure that all Texans have equal access to the ‘modern public square,'” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote. He said Texas views social media companies as common carriers – “the 21st century descendants of the telegraph and telephone companies” — and therefore subject to government regulations designed to foster communications.

Texas also dismissed opponents’ concerns that the law would force platforms to host objectionable and harmful content.

“These predictions are unfounded,” Paxton wrote. The law “allows platforms to remove content: they just have to do it in a neutral way”, for example by creating rules against spam or pornography, he wrote. The bill also includes an exception for removing content that is illegal or incites violence, he said.

What could the Supreme Court do?

The tech groups appealed to Judge Samuel Alito for the emergency ruling because he oversees the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Alito could decide on his own or send the matter to the full court.

Whatever he decides, the trial over the fundamental constitutionality of the law will continue – and may itself end up in the Supreme Court.

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