Court rules in favor of Texas social media regulation law

Austin, Texas — A federal appeals court ruled in favor of a Texas law targeting major social media companies like Facebook and Twitter on Friday in a win for Republicans who accuse the platforms of censoring conservative expressions.

But the decision of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans likely won’t be the last word in a legal battle at stake outside of Texas, too, and could affect how some of the world’s greatest technology companies regulate content by their users.

The Texas law, signed last year by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, has been challenged by tech trade groups who warn it would prevent platforms from removing extremism and hate speech. A similar law was also passed in Florida and declared unconstitutional by a separate appeals court.

The final word will likely come from the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier this year blocked Texas law while the lawsuit was underway.

“Today we reject the idea that corporations have a generous First Amendment to censor what people say,” wrote US Circuit Court judge Andrew Oldham.

NetChoice, one of the groups challenging the law, expressed disappointment in a statement pointing out that the ruling was the opposite of the decision made in the Florida law lawsuit.

“We remain convinced that if the U.S. Supreme Court hears any of our cases, it will uphold the First Amendment rights of websites, platforms and apps,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice.

Republican elected officials in several states have supported laws like those enacted in Florida and Texas that sought to portray social media companies as generally liberal in vision and hostile to ideas outside that point of view, especially from the political right.

Judge Samuel Alito wrote in May that it is not clear how the Supreme Court’s previous First Amendment cases, many of which predate the Internet age, apply to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and other digital platforms.

Florida law, as enacted, would give the Florida Attorney General the power to sue companies under the Deceptive and Unfair Business Practices Act. It would also allow individual residents to sue social media companies for up to $100,000 if they feel they have been treated unfairly.

Texas law only applies to the largest social media platforms with more than 50,000 active users.

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