Supreme Court Weighs Free Speech Challenges to GOP-Backed Social Media Restrictions

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday questioned laws in Florida and Texas that seek to impose restrictions on the ability of social media companies to moderate content based on the presumption that it offends conservative speech.

Facebook and YouTube, represented by business groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), say both laws violate the companies' free speech rights under the First Amendment. Publish on their sites.

A variety of technology companies that oppose the law, including Reddit, Discord, and Yelp, routinely moderate user content.

After the first of two oral arguments on the Florida law, a majority of justices appeared to think the move violates the free speech rights of major social media companies.

“Why is it that, you know, the government comes in and says, 'We're not going to let you implement those kinds of restrictions?' asked liberal Justice Elena Kagan.

However, some judges have suggested that there may be some legitimate use against other sites covered by the statute.

“It's very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff here,” said conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Arguments over the Texas law continued Monday afternoon.

Republican-led states in 2021 were enacted by Twitter, Facebook and others after former President Donald Trump's bid to overturn the 2020 presidential election ended in a siege of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

That was before Twitter was acquired the following year by billionaire Elon Musk, who aligned himself with the platform's conservative critics and allowed the return of various banned users, including Trump.

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Both laws seek to impose restrictions on content control and require companies to provide users with specific explanations when removing content.

The Florida law, among other things, bars companies from banning public figures running for political office and restricts “shadow banning,” whereby certain user content is difficult to find by other users. The government says such measures are a form of censorship.

Texas law similarly prohibits banning users based on comments they express on the sites. Every law requires companies to publish their moderation policies.

States are trying to equate social media companies with the telecommunications industry, which transmits speech but lacks editorial input. These “common carriers” are heavily regulated by the government.

The Florida law “does little more than require sites that open themselves to all comers and content to adhere to their common business practice, which has operated as common carrier regulation for centuries,” state Attorney General Ashley Moody wrote in court documents. .

Trade groups point to differences between the telecom industry and social media sites, with companies routinely exercising “editorial discretion” to enhance user experience by limiting spam, trolling and hate speech.

Media groups, including Reporters for Freedom of the Press, have advocated for the laws and supported tech companies. Threatens freedom of speech And on a wider scale.

The same rationale adopted by states can be used against news organizations, movie studios and video game publishers, they argue.

Some tech commentators have pointed out that Musk's actions since buying Twitter have undermined the rationale behind the laws, because in many ways he has shown how moderate principles define the social media platform's identity.

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Conservatives have now championed the newly named X, while liberals are complaining bitterly about what they see as promoting right-wing content.

“The origin story is completely undercut,” said Ari Cohn, a lawyer at TechFreedom, a think tank that opposes the laws, about the rationale behind their implementation.

Still, the lawsuits retain a political edge, with President Joe Biden's administration filing a brief Supports legal challenges and former President Donald Trump Supports laws.

In May 2022, the Supreme Court blocked the implementation of the Texas law after the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to stay the Texas law. At that time, four of the nine judges said the court should not have intervened at that stage.

The Florida move was blocked by the Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, prompting the state to appeal to the Supreme Court.

A legal question not at issue in the case, but lurking in the background, is the scope of Internet companies' immunity for content posted by their users. Last year, the court ignored the verdict in the case.

Challenges to the Texas and Florida laws The Supreme Court is currently grappling with several legal questions related to social media.

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