US Supreme Court to weigh Florida, Texas laws constraining social media
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[February 26, 2024]
By John Kruzel and Andrew Chung
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday was set to hear
arguments on the legality of Republican-backed laws in Florida and Texas
that restrict the ability of social media platforms to curb content that
these companies deem objectionable in a pair of cases that could reshape
free speech rights in the digital age.
At issue is whether these 2021 state laws regulating content-moderation
practices by large social media platforms violate the free speech
protections for the companies under the U.S. Constitution's First
Amendment. Lower courts split on the issue, blocking key provisions of
Florida's law while upholding the Texas measure.
The laws were challenged by tech industry trade groups NetChoice and the
Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), whose members
include Facebook parent Meta Platforms, Alphabet's Google, which owns
YouTube, as well as TikTok and Snapchat owner Snap.
Neither law has gone into effect due to the litigation.
The justices must decide whether the First Amendment protects the
editorial discretion of the social media platforms and prohibits
governments from forcing companies to publish content against their
will. The companies have said that without such discretion - including
the ability to block or remove content or users, prioritize certain
posts over others, or include additional context - their websites would
be overrun with spam, bullying, extremism and hate speech.
Another issue for the justices is whether the state laws unlawfully
burden the free speech rights of social media companies by requiring
them to provide users with individualized explanations for certain
content-moderation decisions, including the removal of posts from their
President Joe Biden's administration, which opposes the Florida and
Texas laws, has argued that the content-moderation restrictions violate
the First Amendment by forcing platforms to present and promote content
they view as objectionable.
Officials from Florida and Texas have countered that the
content-moderation actions by these companies fall outside the
protection of the First Amendment because such conduct - which they deem
"censorship" - is not itself speech.
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General view shows the United States Supreme Court, in Washington,
U.S., February 8, 2024. REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
Conservative critics of "Big Tech" companies have cited as an
example of what they called censorship the decision by the platform
previously called Twitter to suspend then-President Donald Trump
shortly after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by his
supporters, with the company citing "the risk of further incitement
of violence." Trump's account has since been reinstated under Elon
Musk, who now owns the company that was renamed X.
In signing the law in 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said,
"Many in our state have experienced censorship and other tyrannical
behavior firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela. If Big Tech censors
enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the
dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held
Florida's law requires large platforms to "host some speech that
they might otherwise prefer not to host" by prohibiting the
censorship or banning of a political candidate or "journalistic
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, in signing the law in 2021, said, "There
is a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence
conservative ideas and values. This is wrong and we will not allow
it in Texas."
The Texas law forbids social media companies with at least 50
million monthly active users from acting to "censor" users based on
"viewpoint," and allows either users or the Texas attorney general
to sue to enforce it.
Florida is seeking to revive its law after the Atlanta-based 11th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled largely against it. The industry
groups are appealing a decision by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the Texas law, which the Supreme
Court blocked at an earlier stage of the case, with liberal Justice
Elena Kagan and three of the court's more conservative justices in
(Reporting by John Kruzel and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)
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