A media rights organization is urging the Supreme Court to strike down laws in Florida and Texas that would restrict social media platforms' content moderation efforts.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed this week, the nonprofit Media Law Resource Center argues that leaving those state laws in place would result in “chaos.”
“No human being could hope to comprehend -- let alone process and evaluate -- the vast number of messages that propagate across social media without assistance,” the group writes. “By removing that assistance, Texas and Florida would create chaos rather than public discourse.”
The group -- whose members include CNN, ESPN, Netflix and Google -- is weighing in on state laws prohibiting social platforms from suppressing a variety of posts by users. The Texas law prohibits social media platforms with at least 50 million users from removing or suppressing lawful posts based on viewpoint, and Florida's law prohibits large social media platforms from “censoring” journalistic enterprises based on content, and from banning candidates for statewide office (or suspending them for more than 14 days).
Laws in both states were fueled by right-wing lawmakers' accusations that technology companies are especially likely to suppress conservative posts.
The tech groups NetChoice and Computer & Communications Industry Association sued over the laws, with mixed results. In Florida, a trial judge and appellate court mostly agreed that the law appeared to violate the First Amendment. But in Texas, a trial judge said the law was likely unconstitutional, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found the measure valid.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau previously weighed in against the laws, arguing that brands don't want their ads placed near content that might be offensive or untrue.
The Supreme Court has agreed to consider both measures.
The Media Law Resource Center argues in its friend-of-the-court brief that the laws' broad prohibitions wouldn't only prevent platforms from removing harmful material, but could also prevent them from making recommendations or otherwise prioritizing certain content.
“Users cannot sort disinformation from truth or compare viewpoints when information is conveyed by a firehose,” the group writes.
“With intermediaries forbidden to undertake the necessary step of moderation for information quality, users would be lost; the winners in the modern marketplace of ideas would be not those whose ideas have the most merit, but those who can shout the loudest and most frequently,” the organization adds.
The Media Law Resource Center isn't the only outside group to weigh in on the dispute. Law professors, think tanks and outside companies -- including Mozilla and Reddit -- are also urging the Supreme Court to invalidate the laws.
Texas and Florida officials are expected to file their arguments with the Supreme Court by January 16.