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Top Court Seeks US Views on Texas, Florida Social Media Laws (1)

Jan. 23, 2023, 2:52 PM

The US Supreme Court asked the Biden administration for input on Florida and Texas laws that would sharply restrict the editorial discretion of the largest social media platforms in a First Amendment showdown.

Two industry groups are challenging the Republican-backed laws, saying they would impose onerous requirements and put platforms at risk of being overrun by spam and bullying. The Texas law bars large platforms from discriminating based on viewpoint, while the Florida statute requires a “thorough rationale” for every content-moderation decision.

Texas, Florida and the trade associations — which represent Meta Platforms Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. — all are asking the Supreme Court to intervene.

The laws “pose a grave threat to how social media websites provide their services to users,” trade groups NetChoice LLC and the Computer & Communications Industry Association argued in the Florida case. “People use social media websites, and companies advertise on them, precisely because websites spend significant time and resources organizing, presenting, and sorting the vast amount of information on their services.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott say the measures are needed to keep conservative voices from being silenced. “If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable,” DeSantis said when he signed his state’s bill into law in May 2021.

Abbott decried “a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas” when he signed the Texas measure into law four months later.

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The justices directed their request to Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer. The high court in its current term is already set to consider stripping companies of some of their legal immunity by allowing lawsuits when platforms recommend dangerous content to their users.

In a separate social media case, the court on Monday refused to revive a lawsuit over Vimeo Inc.’s removal of six videos that claimed vaccines cause autism.

The Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals blocked most of Florida’s law as probably violating the First Amendment. The New Orleans-based 5th Circuit upheld the Texas law in September but left the measure on hold to allow time for an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Viewpoint Discrimination

Texas’s ban on viewpoint-discrimination is the most sweeping of the disputed provisions. The prohibition includes a handful of exceptions, letting platforms bar content that incites violence or criminal activity or concerns the sexual exploitation of children or harassment of sexual-abuse survivors.

The Texas law also imposes a number of operational and disclosure requirements. The law sets out procedures for user complaints, requires companies to disclose their content- and data-management practices and publish a sweeping biannual “transparency report.”

The law applies to platforms with more than 50 million monthly users, a threshold that exempts conservative social media sites such as Parler and Gab.

The Florida law includes a dozen major provisions, including the requirement that platforms provide a detailed explanation of any decision that “deplatforms,” “censors” or “shadow bans” any user. The 11th Circuit called that provision “particularly onerous.”

The law also bars platforms from banning political candidates or “journalistic enterprises.” As with Texas, the Florida law applies only to the biggest social media companies.

The state has the support of former President Donald Trump. He filed a brief urging the high court to uphold provisions that require platforms to publish their standards and apply their rules “in a consistent manner.”

The Texas case is NetChoice v. Paxton, 22-555. The Florida case is Moody v. NetChoice, 22-277.

(Adds description of laws, legal issues starting in third paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Greg Stohr in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Elizabeth Wasserman at

Greg Stohr

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