Tech Groups Sues Texas Over Law Banning 'Censorship' By Social Media Platforms

Two tech industry groups sued to block a new Texas law that prohibits Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other large social platforms from suppressing posts based on the authors' viewpoints.

The law (HB 20), signed earlier this month by Governor Greg Abbott, “would compel a select few platforms to publish speech and speakers that violate the platforms’ policies -- and to present that speech the same way the platforms present other speech that does not violate their policies,” NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association write in a complaint filed Wednesday in federal court in Austin.

“These restrictions -- by striking at the heart of protected expression and editorial judgment -- will prohibit platforms from taking action to protect themselves, their users, advertisers, and the public more generally from harmful and objectionable matter,” the groups add.

They are asking a federal judge to declare the law invalid for numerous reasons, including that it violates the First Amendment, and prohibit Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton from attempting to enforce the measure.

The same industry groups sued over a similar bill in Florida. In June, a federal judge blocked that law from taking effect. The state recently asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to lift that block.

As with the Florida bill, the Texas measure appears to have been driven by conservatives' belief that social media companies are biased against right-wing views -- despite a lack of empirical proof.

“It is now a law that conservative viewpoints in Texas cannot be banned on social media,” Abbott, a Republican, said earlier this month when he signed the bill.

While the bill would allow social media companies to remove illegal content, it would also require them to host a large variety of objectionable speech. A proposed amendment that would have explicitly allowed the companies to remove vaccine misinformation failed, as did a proposed amendment that would have explicitly allowed companies to take down posts denying the Holocaust.

The organizations argue that requiring them to host speech that violates their policies infringes on their First Amendment rights to exercise editorial discretion over the material they publish.

They also say that requiring them to host speech that violates their terms of service will harm their businesses by driving away advertisers as well as users.

“Advertisers will not permit their products and services to be displayed in an editorial context of harmful or offensive content,” the groups write. “And the proliferation of such objectionable content will cause many users to use the platforms less, or stop using them entirely. All of this will injure the businesses of plaintiffs’ members, irreparably damage their brands and goodwill, and weaken their business models and competitiveness.”

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