Court halts enforcement of Texas law prohibiting social media censorship

Judge Robert Pitman of a federal district court in Austin halted enforcement of Texas’ new law prohibiting social media censorship the night before the act was set to go into effect.

House Bill (HB) 20, authored by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) and sponsored by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), would have prohibited social media platforms with more than 50 million users from censoring individuals based on their views and would have required increased transparency.

Pitman ordered a temporary injunction against HB 20 in a 30-page order, concluding that, “content moderation and curation will benefit users and the public by reducing harmful content and providing a safe, useful service.”

The judge was favorable toward the arguments from the trade associations representing major social media platforms, who contended that instead of protecting the free speech rights of individuals, HB 20 infringed upon the First Amendment rights of the companies to regulate what content is shared on their platforms.

“This Court is convinced that social media platforms, or at least those covered by HB 20, curate both users and content to convey a message about the type of community the platform seeks to foster and, as such, exercise editorial discretion over their platform’s content,” wrote Pitman.

Starting “from the premise that social media platforms are not common carriers,” Pitman contends that the “editorial discretion” exercised by the companies is protected by the First Amendment.

Steve DelBianco, the president of NetChoice who advocated against the bill throughout the legislative process, applauded Pitman’s decision in a press release.

“HB 20 would unleash a tidal wave of offensive content and hate speech crashing onto users, creators, and advertisers,” said DelBianco. “Thanks to the decision made today, social media can continue providing high-quality services to Americans while simultaneously keeping them safe from irresponsible users and offensive content.”

A recent report published by NetChoice shows that nearly six billion posts were removed by social media platforms in the latter half of 2020, which included 2.9 billion posts labeled as “spam,” 66 million as “hateful content,” 52 million as “child sexual exploitation,” 45 million as “graphic violence,” and 25 million as “abuse or harassment.”

Proponents of the legislation, such as Hughes, agree that sites need to moderate content that is graphically violent or pornographic but say that the platforms should not censor political or religious views.

At the time of publishing, Attorney General Ken Paxton had not yet released any statement regarding the court order or Texas’ response.

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