On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its intention to review the legality of state laws in Texas and Florida, which have received support from Republicans and limit social media companies’ authority to moderate content they consider objectionable on their platforms.
The Court has taken on two cases related to these laws, which were enacted in 2021. Technology industry groups have challenged these laws, arguing that they infringe upon the First Amendment protections for freedom of speech outlined in the U.S. Constitution. There has been a division among lower courts regarding this matter, with some overturning key provisions of Florida’s law while upholding the Texas law.
NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), industry organizations whose members include Meta Platforms Inc (META.O), the parent company of Facebook, Google (GOOGL.O), which owns YouTube, as well as TikTok and X (formerly known as Twitter), are the ones opposing these laws.
CCIA President Matt Schruers expressed optimism about the Supreme Court’s decision to take on the case. He stated, “It is about time the Supreme Court addresses whether governments can compel websites to host harmful content. Forcing private websites to provide equal treatment to extremist hate content is not only unwise but also unconstitutional, and we eagerly anticipate presenting this argument before the court.
Those in favor of these laws have contended that social media platforms have been involved in unjustifiable censorship, particularly targeting conservative viewpoints, and have effectively silenced them. On the other side, proponents of content moderation have stressed the importance of countering misinformation and preventing the spread of extremist ideologies.
The Biden administration had informed the Supreme Court that these cases warranted review because the state laws placed a burden on the rights of the companies.
“When a social media platform curates, modifies and organizes third-party content for public presentation, it engages in an activity protected by the First Amendment,” stated the Justice Department.
These cases are evaluating the argument put forth by industry groups that the First Amendment safeguards the editorial discretion of social media platforms and prohibits governments from compelling companies to publish content against their will. The companies have contended that without editorial discretion, their platforms would be inundated with spam, harassment, extremist content, and hate speech.
Critics on the conservative side, often referred to as “Big Tech” companies, have pointed to instances they consider censorship. This includes the suspension of then-President Donald Trump’s Twitter account shortly after the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters. Twitter cited concerns about “the risk of further incitement of violence.” Trump’s account has since been reinstated under the ownership of Elon Musk, who renamed the company.
Upon signing the law in 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott remarked, “Some social media companies are engaging in a dangerous trend of silencing conservative ideas and values. This is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate it in Texas.”
The Texas law prevents social media companies with at least 50 million monthly active users from “censoring” users based on their “viewpoint” and allows either users or the Texas attorney general to file lawsuits to enforce it.
Florida’s law requires large platforms to host certain content they might otherwise choose not to host, prohibiting the censorship or banning of political candidates or “journalistic enterprises.”
NetChoice litigation director Chris Marchese emphasized, “Online services have a well-established First Amendment right to host, curate, and share content as they see fit. The internet is a crucial platform for free expression and must remain free from government censorship.”
Officials from Florida and Texas did not provide immediate responses to requests for comments.
Florida is seeking to reinstate its law after it was largely struck down by the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Industry groups are appealing a decision by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the Texas law, which the Supreme Court had previously blocked in an earlier stage of the case.
These cases from Florida and Texas are scheduled to be heard in the Supreme Court’s upcoming nine-month term, commencing on Monday.
Reported by Andrew Chung in New York; Edited by Will Dunham