The law, called HB20, would prohibit social media platforms with more than 50,000 monthly users from removing or even demonetizing content based on a user’s “view.” This would include content that spreads misinformation or sympathizes with those who committed horrific crimes, like the Holocaust or one of the many mass shootings in the United States. As written, the law provides few exceptions: a platform can remove a user’s content if it violates a previously agreed-upon acceptable use policy, and if the platform gives the user the possibility to appeal. Platforms would also still be able to remove content that incites violence or breaks the law, such as in the case of child pornography.
Unsurprisingly, tech companies like Meta, Twitter, and YouTube, all of which would be affected by the law, took issue with HB20 the moment it was made public. After all, if signed into law, the law would allow Texans and the state’s Attorney General to sue any qualified company that “censored” their opinions online. After the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law could go into effect in early May, the tech giants submitted an emergency order to the Supreme Court asking to appeal the decision.
They seem to have won, for now. Judges Amy Coney Barrett, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts voted on Tuesday to block HB20. This sent the law back to the district court, where both sides will have to make their case for or against HB20.
This is unlikely to be the last time the Supreme Court reviews a social media moderation law. “Social media platforms have transformed the way people communicate with each other and get news,” Judge Samuel Alito wrote in a CONTESTATION joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch, Elena Kagan and Clarence Thomas. “This is a groundbreaking Texas law that addresses the power of mainstream social media companies to shape public debate on important issues of the day.”
The Supreme Court’s decision comes just days after a federal appeals court struck down a comparable law in Florida. This one, called SB7072, would give the state power to tech companies that similarly “censor” users with controversial views. (Interestingly, companies that own a theme park — AKA Disney, whose many parks in Florida support the state’s economy — are exempt.) HB20 and SB7072 are thought to have been prompted by the removal posts or accounts of certain conservative users on Facebook. and Twitter, including that of former President Trump.