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Federal judge temporarily blocks Texas’ law preventing social media companies from banning users

Social media platforms can breathe easier as a federal court has temporarily blocked a new censorship law from going into effect in Texas. The groups representing the social media companies argued Texas’ law violated their legal right.

The two groups are Net Choice and the Computer Communications Industry Association, CCIA, which went to court after House Bill 20 became law in September.

The new Texas’ law effectively seeks to prevent social media platforms from banning users due to their perceived political views. Users would be able to sue when their accounts are banned, and the state’s attorney general might help to institute the lawsuit if the user cannot find a lawyer.

Net Choice and CCIA pointed out an implication of the new law, which would limit social media operators’ ability to prevent their platforms from being used to spread misinformation, lies, and offensive content.

According to the lawsuit, the First Amendment gives social media platforms the right to regulate content. It also let them decide which type of free speech they want to host.

A statement from CCIA president Matt Schruers says, “Today’s outcome is not surprising. The First Amendment ensures that the Government can’t force a citizen or company to be associated with a viewpoint they disapprove of, and that applies with particular force when a State law would prevent companies from enforcing policies against Nazi propaganda, hate speech, and disinformation from foreign agents.”

Part of the lawsuit’s argument is the new law is Texas’ way of policing online speech. Earlier in a media appearance, Schruers explained, “At the end of the day, the state of Texas is attempting to tell private actors what can be said in their private businesses. This law prevents digital services from protecting everyday Texans from bad actors online, and when the state forces digital companies to give what it regards as equal treatment to all viewpoints, not only is that a First Amendment transgression, but it potentially puts the users of digital services at risk.”

The HB 20 came as a reaction to social media companies like Twitter and Facebook shutting down accounts belonging to conservative figures and institutions, particularly the accounts of former President Donald Trump. The two most popular social media platforms were accused of bias against conservative views. As such, the bill enjoyed support from the Republican spectrum.

However, Democrat politicians have alleged that the Republicans only want to punish the social media companies that have legally removed accounts belonging to conservatives.

The bill sought to compare social media platforms to cable and phone carriers that are not legally obligated to regulate or curate content that passes through them.

However, Schruers countered that even network carriers have certain rights in connection with their operation.

Greg Abbot, the governor of Texas who signed the bill into law, argued that social media companies violate the right to speech when they ban accounts belonging to conservatives. “Social media sites have become our modern-day public squares where information should be able to flow freely, but social media companies are now acting as judge and jury on determining what viewpoints are valid. America was built on freedom of speech and healthy public debate, and efforts to silence conservative viewpoints on social media are wrong and weaken public discourse.”

Thomas Leatherbury of Vinson & Elkins LLP filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs. He remarked, “I don’t have a First Amendment right to speak everywhere. I don’t have a First Amendment right to speak and say what I want to on any of these social media platforms because they’re not the government. They’re private companies. They’re not state actors. And they can’t violate the First Amendment because they’re not state actors.”

Net Choice and the CCIA had previously sued in Florida to block a similar law, with a federal judge agreeing the law violated the company’s First Amendment rights.

Net Choice’s vice president and general counsel, Carl Szabo, said after the Florida ruling, “When the State’s own lawyers can’t explain how the law works or even identify to whom it applies, there’s just no way that Florida’s enforcement of that law would keep users, creators, and advertisers safe from the tidal wave of offensive content and hate speech that would surely ensue.”

Written by HackerVibes

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