A Texas law that aims to regulate social media marks “an unprecedented assault on the editorial discretion of private websites,” the tech industry said Friday in an emergency petition asking Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to block the law.
Alito ordered Texas to respond to the petition by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
The Texas law prohibits Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and large tech platforms from suppressing lawful posts based on viewpoint -- including posts that are racist, sexist, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. The measure, like a comparable law in Florida, was driven by conservatives' belief that tech companies disproportionately block posts espousing right-wing views.
NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association sued to block the law on several grounds, including that it would violate social media companies' First Amendment right to wield editorial control over the material they publish.
In December, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman in Austin issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the law. He ruled the measure likely violated the First Amendment.
On Wednesday, a panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the measure by a 2-1 vote, without issuing an opinion. The tech organizations are now urging Alito to stay that 5th Circuit decision and block the law from taking effect while the lawsuit is pending.
The organizations write that the Texas law “would compel platforms to disseminate all sorts of objectionable viewpoints -- such as Russia’s propaganda claiming that its invasion of Ukraine is justified, ISIS propaganda claiming that extremism is war-ranted, neo-Nazi or KKK screeds denying or supporting the Holocaust, and encouraging children to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior like eating disorders.”
NetChoice and Computer & Communications Industry Association add that their members -- including YouTube and Facebook -- stand to lose millions of ad dollars if forced to host all legal posts, given that many major corporations don't want their ads associated with objectionable speech.
“This is not hypothetical,” the groups write, adding that YouTube lost millions of dollars in ad revenue in 2017, when corporations pulled ads from the video platform after learning the ads were adjacent to extremist content and hate speech.