US appeals court rejects big tech’s right to regulate online speech

US appeals court rejects big tech’s right to regulate online speech

Written by Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – A US appeals court on Friday upheld a Texas law that bars large social media companies from banning or censoring users based on a “view,” a setback for tech industry groups that say the measure will turn platforms into bastions of dangerous content.

The 3-0 ruling from the Fifth US Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans, outlines the possibility of the US Supreme Court ruling on the law, which conservatives and right-wing commentators have said is necessary to prevent “Big Tech” from suppressing their views.

“Today we reject the idea that corporations have a First Amendment right to freely censor what people say,” Justice Andrew Oldham, appointed by former President Donald Trump, wrote in the ruling.

The Texas law was passed by the Republican-led state legislature and signed by the Republican governor.

Tech groups that defied the law and were at the end of Friday’s losing verdict include NetChoice, Computer & Communications Industry Association, which counts Facebook’s (NASDAQ::) Meta Platforms, Twitter (NYSE:) and YouTube’s Alphabet (NASDAQ:: Inc) as members.

They have sought to preserve the rights to regulate user content when they believe it may lead to violence, citing concerns that unregulated platforms would empower extremists such as Nazi supporters, terrorists and hostile foreign governments.

On Friday, the association said it did not agree with forcing private companies to treat all viewpoints equally. In a statement, she added, “My ‘God Bless America’ and ‘Death to America’ are two views, and it would be unwise and unconstitutional for the state of Texas to compel a private company to treat them in kind.”

Some conservatives have described the practices of social media companies as abusive, pointing to Trump’s permanent Twitter suspension from the platform shortly after the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by a mob of his supporters. Twitter cited a “risk of further incitement to violence” as the reason.

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Texas law prohibits social media companies with at least 50 million monthly active users from “censoring” users based on a “view,” and allows users or the Texas attorney general to sue to enforce the law.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the ruling on Twitter, calling it “a massive victory for the Constitution and freedom of speech.”

Because the Fifth Circuit ruling conflicts with part of a ruling by the Eleventh Circuit, the aggrieved parties have a stronger case to petition the Supreme Court for consideration.

In May, the Atlanta-based Eleventh Circuit found that most similar Florida law infringes corporate rights to free speech and cannot be enforced. [nL2N2XF2O2]

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