On Wednesday, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against a Texas social media “censorship” law which would prevent Big Tech giants like Twitter and Facebook from blocking content or banning users based on political viewpoints.
In September, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed HB20 into law. “There is a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence conservative ideas and values,” said Abbott at the time. “This is wrong and we will not allow it in Texas.”
Judge Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas granted the preliminary injunction and said that Big Tech companies have a First Amendment right to moderate content on their platforms.
As CNET reported, Judge Pitman also rejected the defendants’ argument that such companies are “common carriers,” adding that the state offered “no convincing support for recognizing a governmental interest in the free and unobstructed use of common carriers’ information conduits.”
“This Court is convinced that social media platforms, or at least those covered by HB 20, curate both users and content to convey a message about the type of community the platform seeks to foster and, as such, exercise editorial discretion over their platform’s content,” Pitman wrote in his ruling. “Without editorial discretion, social media platforms could not skew their platforms ideologically, as the State accuses of them of doing.”
Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said that Abbott’s office plans to appeal Pitman’s ruling.
“Allowing biased social media companies to cancel conservative speech is hostile to the free speech foundation America was built on. In Texas, we will always fight to defend Texans’ freedom of speech,” Eze said in a statement.
As CNET reported, “a federal judge blocked a Florida law in June from taking effect that would have allowed the state to punish social media companies for banning politicians or political candidates from their platforms. The judge in that case found the law’s prohibition on ‘deplatforming’ may violate companies’ free speech rights and said that the legislation on the whole is ‘viewpoint-based.’”
That lawsuit in Florida was filed by internet industry groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association. These organizations also filed the lawsuit in Texas.
“HB 20 would unleash a tidal wave of offensive content and hate speech crashing onto users, creators, and advertisers. Thanks to the decision made today, social media can continue providing high-quality services to Americans while simultaneously keeping them safe from irresponsible users and offensive content,” said Steve DelBianco, CEO of NetChoice, in a statement.
In September, DelBianco described the Texas law as unconstitutional.
“This bill abandons conservative values, violates the First Amendment and forces websites to host obscene, antisemitic, racist, hateful, and otherwise awful content,” DelBianco said in a statement. “Moderation of user posts is crucial to keeping the internet safe for Texas families, but this bill would put the Texas government in charge of content policies.”