A federal appeals court has upheld the validity of a Texas social media law that companies like Meta Platforms Inc. and Twitter Inc. say will prevent them from blocking hate speech and extremism.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans on Friday lifted a lower court order that had prevented the legislation from taking effect.
Texas law prohibits social media platforms with more than 50 million users from discriminating based on point of view. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans argue. The legislation is necessary to protect conservative voices from being silenced. But tech groups say the measure prohibits platforms. Platforms are from removing neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan rules or Russian propaganda about their invasion of Ukraine.
“We reject the platforms’ attempt to extract a free censorship right from the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression,” a panel of judges in the appeals court said. “Platforms are not newspapers. Their censorship is not speech.”
The judges referred the case back to the lower court for further action, under their opinion.
NetChoice is a trade group that represents Facebook owner Meta and other Internet companies. They said it was disappointed with the decision, which “undermines First Amendment protections.”
The majority opinion was written by Judge Andrew Oldham, who was nominated to the bench by President Donald Trump. Judge Edith Jones, nominated by President Ronald Reagan, agreed with Oldham. Judge Leslie Southwick, nominated by President George W. Bush disagreed in part with the majority.
Abbott signed the legislation, known as HB20, a year ago as part of a broader Republican push against what the party sees as censorship of his views.
Critics of the law have said it will wreak havoc on social media platforms. It is removing their ability to moderate and remove content that falls outside of user guidelines. It would also allow Texas residents to sue platforms if posts are removed because their content is being censored.
The law runs counter to growing pressure on social media platforms. They are tightening their rules on content moderation and ban posts that incite violence or harm. This week, executives from Meta, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok testified before a Senate committee. They faced questions about what companies are doing to protect users.
“We will not,” the judges wrote in their decision. “The laws of Florida and Texas are very different.”
The latest ruling “creates a division of the circuit with the unanimous decision of the 11th Circuit,” said Carl Szabo. He is a Vice President and General Counsel of NetChoice. “We remain convinced that when the U.S. Supreme Court hears one of our cases, it will uphold first-amendment rights to websites, platforms, and apps.”