Court of Appeal Revives Texas Law Targeting Social Network Companies

Texas law banning major social media companies from removing political statements has become the first of its kind to come into effect on Wednesday, raising serious questions for major web platforms about how to comply with the law.

The law, which applies to US social media platforms with 50 or more monthly users, was passed last year by lawmakers who oppose websites such as Facebook and Twitter over their removal of posts from publishers and conservative individuals. The law allows users or the attorney general to sue online systems that remove publications because they reflect certain opinions.

In a short ruling on Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans, overturned an earlier ruling that had barred the government from enforcing the law. Although law-abiding technology industry groups are expected to appeal the decision, it raises the uncertainty of major web systems that can now face charges when they decide to remove content by violating their rules.

The surprise decision comes amid widespread debate in Washington, states and foreign capitals on how to balance freedom of expression and online security. Some members of Congress have proposed making the online platforms responsible when broadcasting racist advertisements or misinformation about public health. The European Union last month reached an agreement on laws intended to combat fraud and increase transparency about how social networking companies operate.

But conservatives have said that platforms remove most – rather than less – content. Many of them enjoyed Elon Musk’s recent Twitter acquisition because he promised light speech barriers. When the website banned President Donald J. Trump after the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, Republicans at the palace proposed legislation to regulate companies’ policies.

“My office has just won another BIG VICTORY against BIG TECH,” Ken Paxton, a Texas and Republican attorney general, said in a tweet after the law was reinstated. A spokesman for Mr. Paxton did not comment on how the attorney general planned to enforce the law.

Florida passed a bill last year that imposed fines on companies if they removed the accounts of other political candidates, but a federal judge barred them from taking effect after tech industry groups sued. The Texas bill takes a slightly different approach, stating that the platform “may not control the user, user expression, or ability of the user to receive someone else’s expression” depending on “the user’s or someone else’s perspective.”

The law does not prohibit systems from removing content when it is reported about it by organizations that monitor child sexual abuse online, or when it includes “specific threats of abuse” against a person on the basis of race or other protected features. The law also includes provisions that require online systems to be transparent about their regulatory policies.

When the Texas governor signed a government bill into law in September, the technology industry sued it. It stated that the ban imposed on the platforms violated their right to freedom of expression and association.

The U.S. District Court of West Texas Texas overturned the law in December, saying it violated the Constitution. When the appellate court on Wednesday overturned the district court’s decision, it did not consider the legality of the law.

Carl Szabo, vice-president of NetChoice, a group funded by Google, Meta and Twitter, which sued the ban, said, “We are evaluating our options and plan to appeal immediately.”

Facebook and Twitter spokespersons declined to comment on their plans.

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of Knight’s First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which presented a summary of the law in Texas and Florida, said it was “very disturbing” that the appellate court appeared to buy Texas’s argument that the law is legal. .

“Accepting the theory is giving the government greater power to mislead or manipulate online conversations,” he said.

Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Daphne Keller, a former attorney at Google who is now the director of a platform management program at Stanford University’s Internet Policy Center, said that compliance with the company’s rules “would drastically change the services they provide.”

Bi. Keller said companies could consider limiting access to their websites in Texas. But it is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.

“If you are a company, I’m sure you are thinking, ‘Can we do that?'” He said. “Then there’s the question of how that would play out in public.”

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