The Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked a Texas law aimed at restricting social media platforms ability to moderate users’ content, a law supporters say promotes free speech but that critics say would compel platforms like Facebook and Twitter to tolerate extremism.
Here are some key facts
The court approved a request made by NetChoice and Computer and Communications Industry Association to overturn a lower court’s decision and to temporarily suspend an injunction that would have prevented the law from being applied while it is being litigated.
The ruling came after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unexpectedly overturned a ruling preventing Texas from enforcing the law, which would prohibit social media platforms from “censoring” users based on their “viewpoint,” whether expressed on or off the platform.
CCIA and NetChoice claimed in a filing that the law would allow platforms to transmit propaganda from the Kremlin, ISIS and KKK. This will drive away advertisers, and require the scrapping of content moderation system that have cost billions.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with other officials, argued that social media platforms have become gatekeepers to the public square and therefore apply heavy handed and arbitrarily censorship.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said that it’s “not at all obvious” how pre-internet rulings should be applied to social media platforms and argued that the Supreme Court’s intervention was premature.
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If Texas wins the appeals court, then Texas law will be reinstated.
Texas’ law does not mandate that social media platforms allow any speech. Platforms would still be able to enabled to remove content that “directly incites” criminal activity or includes specific threats of violence against a person or group of people because of race, sex or other personal characteristics. The platforms would still be able to take down content requested by groups that work to stop the sexual exploitation or harassment of survivors of sexual abuse.
Texas’ law of 2021 was prompted by the complaints that Facebook and Twitter had been censoring conservatives. The supposed liberal bias of these platforms created a market for right-leaning alternatives like Parler, Gab and Donald Trump’s Truth Social, which briefly became the most downloaded free app on Apple’s App Store despite extensive technical issues. These alternative platforms are not large enough to threaten the popularity of Facebook and Twitter which have 229 million active users and 1.93billion respectively. Research has so far failed to confirm the popular impression that major social media platforms censor right-leaning users: Twitter’s internal research found that the platform tends to promote content from right-wing sources over content from left-wing sources, while an April study by researchers from MIT, the University of Exeter and Yale determined that, while Republicans were more likely to be banned from Twitter, this was because they were more likely to promote bannedMisinformation, and not Twitter being biased against them.
“Tech Groups Representing Facebook And Twitter Sue Texas Over Social Media Censorship Law” (SME)