A federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a Republican-backed Texas law that prohibits large social media companies from banning users of their political views.
The decision gives a victory to Republicans who have long criticized social media platforms such as Twitter for what they call an anti-conservative bias – a disapproval that was amplified when President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for having violated the platform’s rules on incitement to violence during January 1st. 6, 2021, United States Capitol riot.
The order did not assess the law on its constitutionality, but rather allows the law to come back into effect while the case continues in district court, according to a statement of one of the claimant groups. The decision came from a three-judge panel of the 5th United States Circuit Court of Appeals – which is often considered the most conservative appeals court in the country – and was not accompanied by a written notice explaining the decision at the time of publication.
Two major industry trade groups that represent companies such as Google and Twitter filed a lawsuit to block the law last fall.
In December, a federal district court judge ruled in favor of the groups and blocked the law while the lawsuit continues, ruling that the First Amendment protects a company’s right to moderate content and called some parts of the law of “too vague”. As a result, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the district judge’s decision to the circuit court.
Passed in a special session last year, House Bill 20 also requires social media platforms with more than 50 million monthly users to publicly disclose information about content removal and account suspensions.
“HB 20 is an attack on the First Amendment, and it’s constitutionally rotten from top to bottom,” said Chris Marchese, an attorney for industry trade group NetChoice, tweeted after the judgment. “So of course we will be appealing today’s unprecedented, unexplained and unfortunate order by a panel split 2-1.”
The move comes as businessman Elon Musk is set to buy Twitter and possibly remake the company’s moderation policies – a move conservatives have applauded. Musk recently said he would reinstate Trump’s account if the acquisition is completed.
“Unfortunately, we have a handful of people in America today who want to control the town square, who want to control social media and who want to impose silence,” said Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, mentioned in support of the bill last year. “If you have a point of view different from theirs, they want to shut you up. It’s not the American way, and it’s not the Texas way.”
The law does not provide any specific civil penalties for violations of the law, in addition to allowing users to sue to recover their legal costs from the offending company. The law also empowers the Attorney General to prosecute violations.
The Texas Attorney General’s office said in a tweet late Wednesday that the appeals court made the right decision and said it would continue to uphold Texas law.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texatribune.org/2022/05/11/texas-social-media-law-reinstated/.
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