Facebook, Twitter and YouTube learned Friday their opinions take a back seat to the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of free speech.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in Texas, upheld the constitutionality of state law HB 20, which forbids social media from censoring content based on user viewpoint. Big tech challenged the law in court, arguing the right to free speech includes a company’s right to deny others’ free speech. A trial court judge agreed with their bizarre take on the First Amendment that the appellate court set straight with last week’s ruling.
The court cited Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that clarifies companies are not “speaking” when they host other people’s speech. The court also rejected the platforms’ claims of “editorial discretion.”
Unlike newspapers, social media platforms do not claim responsibility for hosted content and are, in fact, protected from such liability by Section 230, the court noted. Also, newspapers engage in content moderation before it is published; social media platforms perform their censorship after users post on their site.
Fox News further reported:
A federal appeals court upheld a Texas law on Friday that seeks to curb censorship by social media platforms. The ruling, a major victory for Republicans who charge companies like Twitter and Facebook are limiting free speech, is a step in a major legal battle that could end up at the Supreme Court.
The lawsuit is challenging HB 20, a Texas bill signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott that regulates social media platforms with more than 50 million monthly users, which includes Google, Facebook and Twitter, and says they cannot censor or limit users’ speech based on viewpoint expression.
In his opinion, Federal Judge Andrew S. Oldham of the Fifth Circuit said the platforms argued for “a rather odd inversion of the First Amendment” that “buried somewhere in the person’s enumerated right to free speech lies a corporation’s unenumerated right to muzzle speech.”
“Today we reject the idea that corporations have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say,” Judge Oldham continued.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is arguing in defense of HB 20, stated on Twitter Friday, “I just secured a MASSIVE VICTORY for the Constitution & Free Speech in fed court: #BigTech CANNOT censor the political voices of ANY Texan!”
NetChoice, a nonprofit group representing Meta in the challenge against the Texas law, said in a statement they are “disappointed” with the decision. “We remain convinced that when the U.S. Supreme Court hears one of our cases, it will uphold the First Amendment rights of websites, platforms, and apps.”
Friday’s ruling created what is known as a “circuit split,” since the eleventh circuit struck down a similar social media law in Florida. A circuit split generally increases the likelihood of the Supreme Court taking up a case.
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