Let’s start with this premise: The giant social-media platforms and other tech companies need no help or defending.
They’re monopolistic, they’re massively powerful, and they very often create or amplify behavior that’s damaging to the psychological health of Americans, that drives other media to the brink of extinction, and that dangerously undermines democracy.
But I’ve been watching the news from last week, where a surprise ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans lifted an injunction against a Texas state law that bars social media companies from removing posts based on a user’s political ideology.
The Texas law took effect Wednesday after an injunction imposed by a district court was lifted by the appeals court in a move that shocked the tech industry . On Friday, two Washington-based groups representing Google and Facebook among others, filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court that seeks to block the law.
The law, signed in September by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, empowers residents of the state as well as the state attorney general to sue social media companies if residents believe they’ve been unfairly banned or censored. The law also requires tech companies to build a complaint system so people can challenge decisions or highlight activities that might be in violation of the law.
The Texas law is part of a growing movement in Republican-controlled state legislatures where politicians claim social media is biased against them. It’s part of the reason why former President Donald Trump created a personal social network called “Truth Social,” which by most accounts has been a flop.
These laws are bad news.
I’d call the politicians behind these laws “conservatives,” but that wouldn’t be accurate—not in the traditional definition of the word “conservative,” anyway. Once it meant protection of First Amendment rights, lower taxes, a strong military, and minimal government interference in private business. The private sector, in the older definition, was free to set its own rules, within reason. As recently as the 2008 presidential campaign, the Republican ticket campaigned on deregulation.
Now, these new laws require private companies to publish content that they believe violates their rules or is otherwise objectionable.
I’m often uncomfortable with the kinds of harmful content the social networks allow. I do think the power of these companies has made them singularly dangerous. I do think there needs to be some kind of regulation. I just don’t think it should have anything to do with ideology. It should deal with a standard of truth. It should address libel and hate speech. It should prohibit violence and threats of violence, and anything else contrary to federal law.
But now, in effect, these laws give the government the power to regulate which forms of speech it requires to be posted. They’re not really based on a philosophy of governing, or grounded in constitutional principle. Rather, they’re based on perceived ideological bias and conspiracy theories.