Tech groups ask Supreme Court to strike down Texas social media law

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

The Texas law went into effect on Wednesday after the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans lifted a district court injunction that had barred it. The appeals court action shocked the industry, which was largely successful in pushing back against Republican state leaders’ efforts 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, according to a press release.

The law “deprives private online companies of their free speech rights, prohibits them from making constitutionally protected editorial decisions, and requires them to publish and promote objectionable content,” said NetChoice attorney Chris Marchese. , in a press release. “Left standing, [the Texas law] will overturn the First Amendment – ​​to violate free speech, the government need only pretend to “protect” it.

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The app takes to the nation’s highest court a battle over the future of online speech that has rattled policymakers in Washington and state houses. As lawmakers around the country increasingly call for regulation of Silicon Valley’s content moderation policies, they are up against the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from regulating speech.

The request was filed with Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., who was appointed to the court by Republican President George W. Bush.

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The Texas law, which was signed by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott in September, reflects a growing push by Republicans in state houses — while they remain a minority in Washington — to advance their accusations that companies technologies are biased against their ideology. The law allows Texas residents and the state 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 going into effect by a federal district judge. But in a surprise ruling on Wednesday night, the appeals court lifted the judge’s temporary injunction – allowing the law to go into effect while a lower court continues to argue its merits. By filing the emergency petition with the Supreme Court, the tech trade groups are seeking to overturn that decision.

The law mirrors longstanding claims by conservatives that Silicon Valley social media companies are “censoring” them. The companies deny the accusations, but the accusations have become central to Republicans’ political message. Elon Musk’s recent accusations that Twitter has a “strong leftist bias” amid its takeover of the company have only fueled these claims.

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

Legal experts and technology groups have widely argued that these laws violate 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 run by government officials to broadcast certain speeches,” CCIA Chairman Matt Schruers said in a statement to The Washington Post. “While opinions may differ on whether online platforms should host views like hate speech or Nazi propaganda, the First Amendment leaves that choice up to individuals and businesses, not bureaucrats.”

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