Understanding Texas social media law that is troubling tech companies
Large tech companies and Texas are again at loggerheads about the state law that bans censorship on social media platforms. NetChoice and the Computer Communications Industry Association have approached the US Supreme Court for an emergency stay on the legislation after a Federal Appeals Court unblocked it. The Texas HB 20 came into effect after the appeals court's decision to lift the preliminary injunction.
- The social media v/s Texas government battle is headed for an interesting showdown at the US Supreme Court.
- The decision of the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court's decision to overturn the injunction on the controversial 'anti-moderation' law has invited reactions from both industry and non-industry people.
- The fact that NetChoice had won a similar case last year should help tech companies sleep peacefully.
The controversial Texas state legislation dubbed 'HB 20' prohibits social media platforms with 50 million or more users to "block, ban, remove, deplatform...deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression." As per the law, Texas residents can sue Twitter or Facebook or other platforms for allegedly censoring their content. It also requires companies to publicly disclose how they moderate the content.
The Texas state law that prohibits social media platforms with over 50 million active users from censoring any content came into being in September last year. In December, US district judge Robert Pitman issued a preliminary injunction against the law on the grounds that such a law would hamper the First Amendment rights of the companies.
The HB 20 worries tech companies as it takes away their power to moderate content. The algorithms are built to remove or rank down material that is against community standards. As per the law, they will not be able to take such an action without being knee-deep in litigation. The industry fears that social media platforms will become a breeding ground for hate speech.
An age-old criticism leveled against tech platforms is that they discriminate against conservative users. Conservatives across the US have time and again demanded social networks to let people speak what they want. Among others, the law prohibits companies from ranking their content which in turn affects the visibility of certain types of posts. The advocates of legislation call it a fair game for everyone.
The tech companies allege that the Texas HB 20 strips their First Amendment rights, including the right to make editorial decisions. For years, social media platforms have been able to moderate user-generated content. They have been protected against liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The Texas law, however, will make it possible for any disgruntled user to sue social networks.