Texas law could force social media to harbor disinformation and hate speech

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Enlarge / Flags of the United States and Texas outside the Texas State Capitol building in Austin.

Getty Images | PA Thompson

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott yesterday signed a ban on social media “censorship”, placing further restrictions on tech companies that will certainly spark a court battle similar to the one unfolding in Florida.

Industry groups criticized the newly enacted legislation as “unconstitutional”. The law “seeks to punish social media companies for following policies that protect Internet users from dangerous online content,” according to the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA).

The CCIA previously sued Florida for blocking state law that would have made it illegal for social media companies to ban politicians. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle sided with the tech industry in June, granting a preliminary injunction that blocks the law because it violates the First Amendment rights of companies that moderate user content on their platforms in line.

“Unconstitutional and dangerous”

NetChoice, which sued Florida with the CCIA, called Texas law “unconstitutional and dangerous”.

“This bill abandons conservative values, violates the First Amendment, and forces websites to host obscene, anti-Semitic, racist, hateful and otherwise horrific content … By empowering the government to control online speech, HB 20 clearly violates the First Amendment, ”said NetChoice President Steve DelBianco. “This law essentially creates a new doctrine of Internet fairness that will only make it harder for Conservatives to share their news and opinions online.”

The law only allows social networks to ban hate speech if it involves “specific threats of violence”.

DelBianco said the Texas law “has the same First Amendment flaws as Florida law that a federal court blocked this summer” and predicted that “the same result will almost certainly occur in Texas.” If not blocked by a court, the Texas law is expected to come into effect on December 2.

The Chamber of Progress, a recently formed industry lobby group, noted Texas law “prohibits social media companies from removing content based on the user’s” point of view, “even if that content violates the platform’s community standards. During debate last week, Texas Democrats have proposed amendments that would explicitly allow social media platforms to remove posts related to Negationism, Domestic and international terrorism, and vaccine disinformation. The Republicans managed to defeat all three of them. “

The law “will put more hate speech, scams, terrorist content and disinformation online, when most people want a safer and healthier internet,” the group said. Members of the lobby group include Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple and other companies that operate online platforms.

Government Says Big Tech Censors ‘Conservative Views’

Abbott said the law protects freedom of speech.

“We will always stand up for free speech in Texas, which is why I am proud to have enacted House Bill 20 to protect First Amendment rights in the Lone Star State,” Abbott said. in a press release. announcement. “Social media websites have become our modern public place. They are a place of healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely, but there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative views and ideas. It’s wrong. , and we won’t allow it in Texas. “

Texas law qualifies social media platforms as “common carriers” and applies its restrictions to social media platforms with more than 50 million active users in the United States.

“A social media platform cannot censor a user, a user’s expression, or a user’s ability to receive another person’s expression on the basis of: (1) the point of view the user or another person; (2) the point of view represented in the expression or expression of another person; or (3) the geographic location of a user in that state or any part of that state, ”the law says.

The bill’s definition of “censorship” is “to block, ban, remove, misplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression.” The Texas Attorney General or users can sue social media platforms that violate this ban and get an injunction and reimbursement of court costs, according to the law.

The law applies to the “maximum extent” authorized by the Constitution

The law provides exceptions allowing companies to censor any post that a “social media platform is specifically authorized to censor by federal law; is the subject of a referral or request from an organization with the aim of preventing the sexual exploitation of children and protecting survivors of sexual abuse resulting from continued harassment; directly incites criminal activity or consists of specific threats of violence directed against a person or group on the basis of their race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, sex or status of peace officer or judge; or is an illegal expression. “

The drafters of the bill seemed to be aware that the Constitution limits how far they can go in regulating online platforms and that the courts are likely to overturn parts of the law. “This Chapter applies to the maximum extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the United States, but not beyond the maximum extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the United States “, says the law. The law also says that if a part “is found to be invalid or unconstitutional by a court”, the rest of the law will still apply.

In addition to the censorship ban, the new law states that social media sites “sites must disclose their content management and moderation policies and implement a complaints and appeals process for the content they delete, providing a reason for deletion and a review of their decision, ”the governor’s announcement said. “They must also review and remove illegal content within 48 hours. House Bill 20 also prohibits email service providers from preventing the transmission of content-based email messages.”


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