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Elon Musk’s X-Corp asked a California court on Friday to overturn a first-of-its-kind online content moderation law, arguing the measure pressures social media platforms to censor discourse viewed as problematic by state officials.
X, formerly known as Twitter, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California against the new law AB 587, which requires social media companies to publicly disclose moderation practices around categories the state could label as misinformation/disinformation, extremism/radicalization, and hate speech — otherwise the state could impose fines for non-compliance.
But with Musk’s pledge to restore a marketplace of ideas on his newly rebranded $44 billion social media company, X Corp. alleges California’s new law regulating certain forms of speech violates the First Amendment under the U.S. and California constitutions.
“Because X Corp. must take such positions on these topics as they are formulated by the State, X Corp. is being forced to adopt the State’s politically-charged terms, which is a form of compelled speech in and of itself,” the lawsuit alleges.
“AB 587 thus mandates X Corp. to speak about sensitive, controversial topics about which it does not wish to speak in the hopes of pressuring X Corp. to limit constitutionally-protected content on its platform that the state apparently finds objectionable or undesirable,” the suit says.
Lawmakers tout the content moderation practice as a mere “transparency measure” under which state officials require certain social media companies to make their content moderation policies and statistics publicly available.
Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino), who authored the bill, said in response to the lawsuit that AB 587 is “a pure transparency measure that simply requires companies to be upfront about if and how they are moderating content.”
“It in no way requires any specific content moderation policies,” he added. “If Twitter has nothing to hide, then they should have no objection to this bill.”
The lawsuit brought forward by X Corp. comes months after satire news website Babylon Bee filed separate litigation with podcaster Tim Pool and Minds, Inc. against California’s attorney general to keep state officials from enforcing the content moderation law.
The group argues the law was “written with the express intent to discourage expression” of constitutionally protected viewpoints and failed the vagueness doctrine of the Fourteenth Amendment, which requires criminal laws to state explicitly and definitely what conduct is punishable.
“If Big Tech is tasked by the state with eliminating hateful or misinformative content, they’ll stuff everything they don’t like into those categories, including opinions, jokes, and even factual statements,” Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon said. “We’ve already experienced it first hand.”
Upon signing the bill into law, which is set to take effect next year, California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom said the state would “not stand by as social media is weaponized to spread hate and disinformation that threaten our communities and foundational values as a country.”
Dillon argued that lawmakers made the law too vague and called it a censorship bill.
“We need laws that prohibit viewpoint discrimination, not laws that compel it under threat of penalties (and under the guise of good-faith content moderation),” Dillon said.