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Federal judge blocks new Texas social media content law


From Texas Standard:

An Austin federal judge has blocked the application of a Texas law that restricts how and when major social media platforms can remove or moderate content posted by their users. Governor Greg Abbott signed the law in September. It was sponsored by Republican lawmakers who believe sites like Facebook are censoring conservative views by blocking certain users or deleting their posts.

Judge Robert Pittman’s ruling cited the First Amendment right of social platforms to curate content “to convey a message about the kind of community the platform seeks to foster.”

Thomas Leatherbury is Director of the First Amendment Clinic at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. The SMU Clinic has filed an amicus file in the case, siding with social media platform companies, as well as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: What Exactly Would Texas Law Require Social Media Platforms to Do, or Not to Do, Regarding User-Generated Content?

Thomas Leatherbury: There were two aspects of the law that the judge particularly insisted on declaring unconstitutional. The first was the onerous disclosure and exploitation requirements that placed all kinds of reporting requirements on the biggest social media platforms. The second was the part that prohibited social media platforms from blocking or censoring content, depending on the point of view and that allowed actions by individuals and the attorney general’s enforcement of potential violations of the law.

From what I understand, Facebook and Twitter, which were represented in the lawsuit by industry associations, block and moderate content that spreads misinformation or advocates violence and material that is harmful to children. Is it correct?

And they always have. And they have the right, under the First Amendment, to exercise their editorial discretion, to create the kind of community, and to block or mislead the kinds of news or kinds of speakers that violate their standards. community. Thus, the law would have asked them not to block, or not to force them to speak, by diffusing content which they found reprehensible with regard to the standards of their community.

Does it surprise you that Judge Pittman rejected the Texas law?

No, it wasn’t a surprise at all. Since the law was passed, some of us have spoken out against it. And there is also a good reason, because a similar law which was not even as onerous as the law in Texas, has already been declared unconstitutional in Florida. And so, Judge Pittman cited this Florida case several times in reaching his decision to find the Texas law unconstitutional. So absolutely no surprise, foolproof reasoning.

On the other hand, however, there is the argument that these platforms – although technically private – have become, in effect, public forums. And shutting down someone effectively denies him the ability to speak.

Yes, but they are still private companies, and Judge Pittman and the Florida Judge had no difficulty rejecting the false reasoning that they have become common carriers. They are not railways, they are not public. Utilities are not telephone companies, they are not broadband providers. As Justice Pittman said, these are not just blind conduits. They have always exercised the right to moderate content to create the kind of community they want to create. And there are plenty of communities that people who feel like they’ve been blocked or censored on the biggest platforms can go and voice their message.

Assuming the state appeals this decision, what are the chances that it could end up in the Supreme Court?

You know it could. I don’t often read these tea leaves, but the case of Florida is before us. It’s on appeal to the 11th Atlanta Court of Appeals. So we could have another appeal decision before the 5th circuit decides. What is unfortunate is that the state is wasting our tax dollars defending clearly unconstitutional laws. And since the plaintiffs have been successful in this case so far, if they are successful, they can collect their legal fees from the state. Totally unnecessary and unnecessary spending of state money.

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