Tech groups are asking the Supreme Court to overturn Texas’ social media law

Tech groups are asking the Supreme Court to overturn Texas’ social media law

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Two Washington-based groups representing Google, Facebook and other tech giants filed an urgent petition in the Supreme Court on Friday to block a Texas law that bars social media companies from removing posts based on a user’s political ideology .

The Texas law went into effect Wednesday after the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans overturned a district court injunction that ruled it out. The appeals court lawsuit shocked the industry, which has largely successfully repelled efforts by Republican leaders to regulate social media companies’ content moderation policies.

In their Supreme Court filing, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) argue that the law is unconstitutional and risks causing “irreparable harm” to the Internet and businesses, a press release said.

The law “deprives private online companies of their speaking rights, bans them from making constitutionally protected editorial decisions, and forces them to post and promote objectionable content,” NetChoice consultant Chris Marchese said in a statement. “Ditched, [the Texas law] will turn the First Amendment on its head — to violate freedom of expression, the government need only claim to ‘protect’ it.”

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The motion brings a battle over the future of online speech before the nation’s highest court that has rocked policymakers in Washington and in state buildings. As lawmakers across the country increasingly call for regulation of Silicon Valley’s content moderation policies, they clash with the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from regulating speech.

The motion was filed with Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., who had been nominated to the court by Republican President George W. Bush.

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The Texas law, signed into law by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott in September, reflects growing pressure from Republicans in state houses — while remaining a minority in Washington — to air their allegations that tech companies are biased against their ideology. The law allows Texas residents and the Attorney General to sue social media companies with more than 50 million users in the United States if they believe they have been unfairly banned or censored. The law also requires tech companies, including Google’s Facebook and YouTube, to set up a complaints system so people can challenge decisions to remove or report illegal activity.

The law was initially blocked from enactment by a federal district judge. But in a surprise decision Wednesday night, the appeals court overturned the judge’s injunction, allowing the law to go into effect while a lower court continues to hear its merits. By filing the summary motion with the Supreme Court, the tech trade groups are attempting to overturn that decision.

The law echoes longstanding claims by conservatives that Silicon Valley social media companies are “censoring” them. The companies deny these allegations, but the allegations have become a central part of Republican political messages. Elon Musk’s recent accusations that Twitter has a “strong left bias” in light of his acquisition of the company have only fueled these claims.

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Florida passed a similar social media law last year, but it has been blocked from going into effect. The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit heard but did not rule on the state’s appeal last month.

Legal experts and technology groups have widely argued that such laws run counter to the First Amendment. They also warn that they could make it harder for companies to remove harmful and hateful content.

“No online platform, website or newspaper should be directed by government officials to broadcast specific speeches,” CCIA President Matt Schruers said in a statement to The Washington Post. “While views may differ on whether online platforms should host viewpoints such as hate speech or Nazi propaganda, the First Amendment leaves that choice to individuals and corporations, not bureaucrats.”

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