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Facebook, YouTube and Twitter strike back, sue over Texas social media censorship law

  • September 24, 2021

new state law that cracks down on social media companies for censoring conservative speech.

The lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday challenges the law signed earlier this month by Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that would allow any state resident banned from a social media platform for their political views to sue.

Texas lawmakers were motivated in large part by the suspensions of former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“At a minimum, H.B. 20 would unconstitutionally require platforms like YouTube and Facebook to disseminate, for example, pro-Nazi speech, terrorist propaganda, foreign government disinformation, and medical misinformation,” the lawsuit alleges.

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It could eliminate the need for air conditioning

In addition, the new state law “will work to chill the exercise of platforms’ First Amendment rights to exercise their own editorial discretion and to be free from state-compelled speech,” it said.

Abbott did not respond to a request for comment. In a Washington Post op-ed, he claimed the law is needed to rein in the unbridled power of the nation’s leading tech companies.

target these companies for restricting or removing content or accounts.

A federal judge blocked a similar Florida law in June, one day before it could take effect after the trade groups, NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, challenged the constitutionality of the law in court.

The trade groups say the Texas law in much the same way tramples the First Amendment rights of social media companies to moderate content by forcing them to host harmful speech including hate speech.

“Forcing those companies to give equal treatment to all viewpoints puts Nazi party political speech and extremist messages from Taliban sympathizers on equal footing with God bless America,” Matt Schruers, president of the Computer Communications Industry Association, told reporters. “That is not the place of the government to enact those laws and that could not be further from what the founders intended when they drafted the First Amendment.”

The First Amendment protects people from censorship by the federal government, not from content moderation decisions by private companies. Social media companies say they don’t target conservatives, only harmful content that violates their rules.

Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, called the Texas law “brazenly unconstitutional.”

“Texas’ law was never intended to survive critical scrutiny,” he wrote in a blog post. “It is purely performative.”

More legislation targeting Facebook, Twitter and YouTube expected in 2022 

Dozens of states are considering legislation to restrict how social media platforms regulate people’s speech, though few have gotten this far.

These bills resonate with conservatives who believe their First Amendment rights are violated when social media posts are labeled or removed or when their accounts are banned for violating the policies of social media platforms. They were also angered by Trump’s bans from the major platforms.

Steve DelBianco, president and CEO of NetChoice, says he expects a slew of bills in Republican-led states in 2022. How far reaching those bills are will depend on the outcome of the cases in Florida and Texas.

“Many of those states are waiting and watching to see whether this First Amendment barrier means they need to go back to the drawing board to try to come up with a very narrowly tailored piece of legislation,” DelBianco said.

Conservatives declare Texas law a victory for free speech 

Proponents hailed the passage of the Texas law as a victory for free speech, predicting other states would follow suit. 

“There is no question that big tech is integral to free speech in today’s day and age,” Samantha Fillmore, state government relations manager for conservative think tank The Heartland Institute, told USA TODAY earlier this month. 

The Heartland Institute recently estimated that 70 bills in 30 states are challenging “big tech censorship.”

“Because of this, Big Tech can no longer unilaterally decide who can say what without being held accountable,” Fillmore said.

Florida was the first state to push through legislation when Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, signed a bill in May that would penalize social media companies for removing or barring the speech of politicians. DeSantis is appealing the federal judge’s temporary injunction. 

The Texas law goes further than Florida’s. It applies to all users and prevents social media platforms from making decisions based on the “viewpoint” expressed in the post. 

The Republican claim that powerful tech companies are biased against conservatives has emerged as a top issue to rally the base in the 2022 midterm elections.

The GOP is betting it will boost voter registration, turnout and fundraising as it tries to retake the U.S. House and Senate, political observers say. It also could help Republicans at the state level.

Both Abbott and DeSantis are widely seen as possible GOP 2024 presidential contenders coming from big states with large electoral votes. Abbott is facing his first challenging Republican primary to be reelected governor.

Article source: http://rssfeeds.usatoday.com/~/667309760/0/usatoday-techtopstories~Facebook-YouTube-and-Twitter-strike-back-sue-over-Texas-social-media-censorship-law/

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