A federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a Texas law championed by Republicans that allows citizens to sue social media companies for what they perceive as politically motivated bans.
The law, blocked by a lower court in December after internet industry trade groups alleged it violated companies’ First Amendment rights, took effect after the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the state’s motion to stay the lower court’s ruling. The three-judge appeals panel provided no explanation, but an asterisk noted the judges were not unanimous, according to Reuters.
Republicans have repeatedly complained that their viewpoints are silenced on mainstream social media platforms, pointing to the permanent ban of former President Donald Trump from Twitter. Twitter said it booted Trump in January 2021 “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
The Texas law, known as House Bill 20, takes issues with “censorship of or certain other interference with digital expression, including expression on social media platforms or through electronic mail messages.” It requires social media companies operating in Texas that have over 50 million active monthly users to disclose how they moderate content and use algorithms.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman blocked the law a day before it was to have taken effect in December in response to a lawsuit filed by the lobbying groups Net Choice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association. The judge wrote in his opinion that social media platforms have the right to “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.”
Lawsuit plaintiffs contended the law would “prohibit platforms from taking action to protect themselves, their users, advertisers, and the public more generally from harmful and objectionable matter.” They further alleged the law “would unconstitutionally require platforms like YouTube and Facebook to disseminate, for example, pro-Nazi speech, terrorist propaganda, foreign government disinformation, and medical misinformation.”
GOP Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation on Sept. 9, 2021.
“Social media websites have become our modern-day public square,” Abbott said during the signing ceremony. “They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely — but there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas. That is wrong, and we will not allow it in Texas.”