Court Blocks Texas Moderation Ban Law Citing Free Speech

Twitter and Facebook can continue moderating users and content, that’s according to a judge who blocked the Texas Moderation Ban law.

It’s certainly not a good day for conservatives who want to be free of the consequences of their actions. A federal judge has ruled against the Texas moderation ban law, blocking its implementation.

Known as House Bill 20 (or HB20), the bill was signed into law back in September. The bill aimed to outlaw the use of moderating users who violate the sites terms of service. Conservatives have long decried social media for banning users who spew hatred, death threats, harass others, spread misinformation, and other violations of community guidelines. So, through the state of Texas, they got a bill signed into law criminalizing the practice of banning users for “political viewpoints”.

Unsurprisingly, the law was quickly met with a lawsuit from organizations representing various online communities and big players from the tech community. They obviously weren’t fans of being legally barred from moderating the content flowing through their networks. As it is, the media has already painted some of them as the source of misinformation. Being barred from moderating such content would only make matters worse.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), filed an amicus brief, siding with the plaintiffs in the case. Among the comments were the fact that companies also are protected by free speech. The free speech rights in the US constitution permits the site to curate their own content. As such, there are constitutional questions about the moderation ban law.

It seems that the judge agreed with that and sided with the plaintiffs. According to Yahoo! News posted notes about the ruling:

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman said the law known as House Bill 20, which prohibits large social media companies from censoring users based on their viewpoints, interferes with the platforms’ editorial discretion and their First Amendment right to moderate the third-party content they disseminate.

“HB 20 prohibits virtually all content moderation, the very tool that social medial platforms employ to make their platforms safe, useful, and enjoyable for users,” Pitman wrote in an order released Wednesday night.

In his order granting a preliminary injunction against enforcing HB 20, Pitman said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled several times that private companies can use editorial judgment to choose whether to publish certain content — and cannot be compelled by the government to publish other content.

In addition, HB 20 allows users to sue if they are blocked from posting on a large platform or their posts are removed. That threat, Pitman said, opens the companies to a myriad of lawsuits based on millions of individual editorial decisions, chilling the platforms from following their content-moderation policies.

“Using YouTube as an example, hate speech is necessarily ‘viewpoint’ based, as abhorrent as those viewpoints may be. And removing such hate speech and assessing penalties against users for submitting that content is ‘censorship’ as defined by HB 20,” Pitman wrote.

The judge also took exception to the law’s focus on social media companies with at least 50 million users a month.

That standard allowed HB 20 to improperly target companies that lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott accused of being biased against conservative viewpoints, Pitman said, noting that the Texas Senate shot down a Democrat’s proposed amendment that would have lowered the law’s user threshold to include Parler and Gab, sites popular with conservatives.

The article notes that Texas attorney’s are already working on appealing the ruling. Citing unfounded conspiracy theories, they argued that they won’t allow “biased” social media to continue to “cancel” conservatives. The hope here is, of course, that the conservative controlled Supreme Court would side with them and overrule the constitution to allow conservatives to be free from the consequences of the actions they take. How the Supreme Court would go is anyone’s guess thanks to the October ruling that effectively overturned Roe v Wade – a ruling that shook the US legal community to the core.

Still, this ruling does represent a reprieve for now. Social media can continue to moderate their users without fear that their decisions, however justified, would result in litigation from the users on the other end of such rulings. If people think social media is bad now, just imagine how much worse it would be if everyone knew that their actions don’t have consequences on those platforms.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: