Tech trade groups ask SCOTUS about Texas social media law

With Thursday’s action, the Supreme Court has now received proposals from two conflicting rulings in a divided circuit related to state laws that seek to compel platforms to air certain speech.

Florida Attorney General and technical groups asked SCOTUS to reverse an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that largely overturned a similar law in Florida that prohibited tech companies from de-platforming politicians and candidates, saying it violated the First Amendment.

The Texas and Florida laws are currently blocked by the circuit courts from taking effect.

The Texas attorney general did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The technology groups say that if both laws were in effect, social media platforms would have to run content that violates their own rules on hate speech and extremist content.

“We are confident that the United States Supreme Court will uphold the First Amendment by finding that the government cannot compel private companies to broadcast objectionable content or override their private editorial decisions,” NetChoice attorney Chris Marchese said in a statement.

The Supreme Court has already ruled on the 5th Circuit’s decision to uphold the Texas law. In a 5-4 decision in May, the high court blocked the Texas law from taking effect in response to an emergency request by NetChoice and the CCIA, based on an earlier 5th Circuit decision this spring. However, the High Court has not ruled on the underlying merits of the 5th Circuit’s decision – and could potentially do so if it grants this latest proposal.

The 2-1 decision by the 5th Circuit in September favored conservatives’ claims that their votes are censored by tech platforms, a claim disputed by the platforms.

It’s not just Texas and Florida that are pushing legislation to limit tech platforms’ content moderation policies. More than 34 states advanced legislation last year, with Republican lawmakers largely pushing bills requiring more speech to stay online and Democratic lawmakers like California and New York pushing bills ordering platforms to remove extremist content.

The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear two more technology-related cases this quarter – Gonzalez vs. Google and Twitter against Taamneh – which may affect the platforms’ future operations under their liability shield known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This law protects websites from lawsuits for most third-party content posted by users, and also allows websites to edit and moderate such content.

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