Texas Probe Of Twitter Violates First Amendment, Groups Tell Judge

Digital rights groups, organizations that advocate for journalists, and the Silicon Valley lobbing group Internet Association are backing Twitter in its effort to halt Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's investigation into the company's editorial policies.

“While one may disagree with how online platforms curate lawful content, there can be no role for the government in enforcing its conception of political orthodoxy,” the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Media Law Resource Center and Pen America say in a friend-of-the-court brief filed this week with U.S. District Court Judge Maxine Chesney in the Northern District of California.

The organizations are urging Chesney to grant Twitter's request for an injunction barring Paxton from continuing with a probe of its content moderation practices.

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Paxton launched his investigation shortly after Twitter and other social media companies suspended Trump's account earlier this year. The attorney general said at the time that the “seemingly coordinated de-platforming” of Trump and others “wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies.” He also demanded that Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Web Services and Apple provide detailed information to him regarding their content moderation policies.

Numerous judges throughout the country have said that private companies like YouTube and Facebook have a First Amendment right to decide what speech to allow on their platforms.

Twitter argued in its complaint that Paxton's investigation is unconstitutional for several reasons, including that he initiated the probe in order to retaliate against Twitter for editorial decisions that are protected by the First Amendment.

The advocacy groups agree, adding in their legal papers that government efforts to regulate online content threaten free speech.

“Any government effort to enforce what it deems viewpoint neutrality on a communications platform carries the temptation to compel platforms to carry speech perceived as favorable to the government, or, at the very least, that speech platforms would not otherwise carry,” the groups write. “As such, these efforts pose a profound threat to First Amendment guarantees, including a free and unfettered press.”

The Internet Association makes a similar argument in a separate friend-of-the-court brief.

“The rules adopted by internet companies vary from company to company and represent a judgment about what types of content are appropriate for the nature of a specific service, its target audience, and concerns about the impact of online content on offline conduct,” the organization writes. “As with any decision that requires the exercise of judgment, there is room for healthy debate over those decisions. But where there is no room for debate is that such decisions are protected by the First Amendment.”

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