A Texas social media law designed to curb political censorship violated tech platforms’ First Amendment rights, a federal court found on Wednesday.
Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking HB 20, signed into law by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in early September, and declared it unconstitutional.
The law prohibited social media platforms from banning, suspending or taking similar adverse actions against users based on their political viewpoint, and it similarly prevented platforms from politically-motivated removal of content. In addition, the law set up a complaint system for users claiming censorship and allowed the state attorney general to sue on an allegedly censored user’s behalf.
The court found that the law violated social media companies’ First Amendment rights to remove content on their platforms.
“Social media platforms have a First Amendment right to moderate content disseminated on their platforms,” Pitman wrote. “Private companies that use editorial judgment to choose whether to publish content—and, if they do publish content, use editorial judgment to choose what they want to publish—cannot be compelled by the government to publish other content.”
Pitman also said that it was in the interest of users to allow social media companies to censor content in order to promote platform safety.
“HB 20’s prohibitions on ‘censorship’ and constraints on how social media platforms disseminate content violate the First Amendment,” Pitman wrote. “Content moderation and curation will benefit users and the public by reducing harmful content and providing a safe, useful service.”
The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by tech industry groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), who represent some of the largest tech companies, including Google, Meta and Amazon.
“America’s judicial system protected our constitutional right to free speech today by ensuring the politically motivated Texas law does not see the light of day and force Americans everywhere to endure racial epithets, aggressive homophobia, pornographic material, beheadings, or other gruesome content just to scroll online,” Steve DelBianco, president and chief executive of NetChoice, said in a statement in response to the ruling.
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