Court Rules Texas Law that Allows Users to Sue Social Networks for Censorship Should Take Effect

Court Rules Texas Law that Allows Users to Sue Social Networks for Censorship Should Take Effect

The state of Texas has pushed back on its quest to enact a law that will give users the right to sue social media companies for censorship, a move that started last year.

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals has paused the temporary injunction on controversial law HB 20, which another court blocked from taking effect last year. The Republican state introduced the bill last year following the notorious ban former President Donald Trump and other notable GOP members from social media.

Trade industry group and members of the tech community had challenged the move in court, securing an injunction to put it on hold.

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Under the law, users will be able to sue large social media platforms with more than 50 million active monthly users such as Facebook and Twitter if they believe they were banned for their political views. HB 20 also prohibits social networks from removing or restricting content based on “the viewpoint of the user or another person.” 

Trade industry groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) managed to secure an injunction against the law last year. They argued that HB 20 would lead to the spread of misinformation and hate speech on social networks and that it also violates the websites’ First Amendment rights. The federal judge overseeing the case agreed that social networks have the right to moderate content under the First Amendment and also said that parts of the law are “prohibitively vague.”

Per Endgadget, in a hearing for the appeal filed by Texas, the state’s lawyers argued that social media platforms are “modern-day public squares.” That means they can be required to host content that they deem objectionable and are banned from censoring certain viewpoints. The 5th Circuit judges sided with Texas, with one even telling the trade groups during the hearing that social networks like Twitter are not websites but “internet providers” instead.

NetChoice counsel Chris Marchese called HB 20 “an assault on the First Amendment” and “constitutionally rotten from top to bottom” on Twitter. The trade groups plan to appeal immediately, but for now, HB 20 is fully in effect. 

A federal court blocked a similar law in Florida last year after the judge ruled that it violates Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that shields online platforms from liability for what their users’ post. Florida also appealed that decision, which will be decided by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is coming around the same Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk is moving to acquire Twitter in a bid to promote free speech. Musk said he would rescind the decision to ban Trump if the acquisition goes through.

Censorship has remained a big issue amid calls to hold social media platforms accountable for unhealthy posts by users. With the far Right pushing for more freedom for users to expressed themselves uncensored and the far Left backing the calls to limit hate speech, bullying, and racial abuse etc., social media platforms have been caught in perpetual dogfight even though Section 230 still serves as a hedge for them. 

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