Trade Organizations Appeal to Supreme Court Against Texas Social Media Law

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Tech and social media platforms are under tremendous pressure from users worldwide to moderate hate speech and potentially harmful content. However, one social media law from Texas called HB 20 makes banning a user or user’s expression impossible. Now, tech industry trade organizations Computer Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice have appealed to the apex court to bring an emergency stay on this law.

What Is HB 20?

The law HB 20Opens a new window (House Bill 20) prohibits technology platforms from restricting or removing content that is based on the “viewpoint of the user or another person,” “the viewpoint represented in the user’s expression or another person’s expression,” or “a user’s geographic location in the state or any part of the state.” In essence, the law bans big social media companies from censoring a user or their expressions, and users can take these platforms to court if they are banned for expressing their viewpoints.  

The law was signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and was slated to go into effect on December 2, 2021.

See more: U.S. Court Dismisses Facebook’s Plea To Dismiss Revised FTC Lawsuit

HB 20 Blocked and Reinstated

Before it could go into effect, CCIA and NetChoice filed a suit in federal court. The court issued a preliminary injunction and blocked the state from enforcing the controversial law. Passing the judgment, Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas saidOpens a new window , “HB 20’s prohibitions on ‘censorship’ and constraints on how social media platforms disseminate content violate the First Amendment.” He further expressed a few other concerns related to the First Amendment and the law being applied to social media platforms with at least 50 million active users in the U.S.

However, the Texas government filed a notice of appeal. About a week ago (May 11, 2022), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the lawOpens a new window to come into effect. The order did not evaluate the Texas law based on its constitutionality. Instead, it let the law go into effect while the case proceeded in the district court. 

Talking about the judgment, Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, saidOpens a new window , “In an unusual and unfortunate move, a split 2-1 Fifth Circuit panel lifted the injunction without ruling on the merits and without issuing an opinion explaining the order. Because HB 20 is constitutionally rotten through and through, we are weighing our options and plan to appeal the order immediately.”

Tech Industry Trade Organizations Appeal to Supreme Court

Following the judgment by the Fifth Circuit panel, the two trade organizations decided to appeal to the Supreme Court to bring an emergency stay against the law. 

In a press releaseOpens a new window , NetChoice counsel Chris Marchese said, “Texas HB 20 strips private online businesses of their speech rights, forbids them from making constitutionally-protected editorial decisions, and forces them to publish and promote objectionable content. The First Amendment prohibits Texas from forcing online platforms to host and promote foreign propaganda, pornography, pro-Nazi speech, and spam.”

By appealing directly to the Supreme Court, the trade organizations have skipped a review where the Fifth Circuit would have assembled a larger panel to review the earlier decision. What decision the Supreme Court will take is yet to be seen.

See more: 5 New Antitrust Bills Seek to Rein in Big Tech’s Anticompetitive Conduct

Possible Implications of the Legal Battle

The legal battle could have some far-reaching implications. Social media giants have leaned on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to handle user-generated content for a while now. Section 230 has also protected them during several lawsuits. But if allowed to come into force, HB 20 may change everything. According to legal scholars, there could be many actions that can be seen as “denying equal visibility” to user content. Users and the government can sue the social media giants for violating an important law. 

Further, platforms may have to figure out how to comply with it, knowing that the litigation is ongoing and things could still change. One option for the platforms may be to stop using algorithmic content filtering and ranking. Or the platforms may simply discontinue offering services in Texas and still land into legal hassles.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of the legal battle and the consequences of the judgment.

What do you think are the potential implications if HB 20 comes into force? Let us know on FacebookOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , and LinkedInOpens a new window .

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