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Big Tech is suing Texas over a new law regulating social media

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Two tech trading groups that have sued Florida over its law governing how social media companies can moderate content filed a federal lawsuit against a similar measure in Texas on Wednesday, arguing that the directive is the right of online platforms violate freedom of expression.

Texas law, known as House Bill 20, prohibits social media companies with more than 50 million monthly active users from banning or banning users based on their point of view. You can also choose not to remove content or “Deny equal access or visibility” based on a user’s point of view.

Legislature passed the bill earlier this month mostly by party lines, with support from Republicans who say Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms are censoring or silencing conservatives – including former President Donald Trump.

“It is now law that conservative views cannot be banned on social media in Texas,” said Governor Greg Abbott after signing the law on September 9th.

In a lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, industry groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association argued that the law violated the first and 14th constitutional amendments by requiring private companies to host content that otherwise remove or restrict them.

They said that while the constitution prohibits federal and state governments from restricting expression or freedom of expression, that clause does not apply to private actors like the big social media companies targeted under Texas law.

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said the Texan social media law “would put NSDAP political speeches and extremist messages from Taliban sympathizers on an equal footing with” God Bless America “by adding” (online) Companies are forced to give something ”. Equal treatment of all points of view. “

“It is not the government’s job to enact these laws, and that couldn’t be further from what the founders intended with the draft of the first amendment,” said Schruers.

As in their Florida lawsuit, the groups also claim the law conflicts with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law passed in 1996 that protects online businesses from complaints about content posted by their users – such as tweets or comments on news articles . It prevents contradicting state laws.

A federal judge temporarily overturned Florida social media law in June calling it “riddled with inaccuracies and ambiguities.” In his ruling, US District Court judge Robert Hinkle cited Section 230, which protects online businesses from “any act voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers classifies obscene, indecent, lascivious, dirty ”. , excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise offensive, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected. “

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, an ally of Trump and a frequent critic of social media companies, led a coalition of 10 attorneys general last week in filing an amicus brief in support of Florida law.

In the letter, which might preview Paxton’s defense in the Texas lawsuit, the AGs argued that Florida’s social media law does not regulate speech, but rather “conduct that is not protected by the first amendment: the arbitrary Apply their guidelines on content moderation. “

Social media companies, meanwhile, have defended their approach, arguing that they have tried to crack down on misinformation – especially about the 2020 elections – and incendiary posts that could provoke violence.

The companies have also come under fire from liberals who say they are allowing misinformation to circulate freely and are still not doing enough to address the problem.

During the debate on the Social Media Act, Republican lawmakers noted that the move would allow social media platforms to remove content that “directly incites criminal activity or consists of specific threats of violence” targeting an individual or group their “race, skin color, disability, religion, national origin or descent, age, gender or status as a peace officer or judge.”

Corporations can also remove content that meets the standards of “illegal expression” in the United States and Texas constitution, or under federal or state law.

The Texan social media law is due to come into force in early December.

jasper.scherer@chron.com

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