Texas Social Media Law Enforcement Paused By Federal Appeals Court

Good news for the tech industry, after a federal appeals court agreed to suspend enforcement of Texas’ controversial social media law HB 20.

The Texas law essentially restricts content moderation actions for the firm on their own platforms,and the federal appeals pause on the law comes amid a looming request by tech industry groups for the Supreme Court to review the case, CNN reported.

In an order on Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of its earlier mandate that had paved the way for the Texas law, known as HB 20, to take effect.

HB 20 Law

HB 20 was signed into Texas law in September 2021, and it prohibits social media companies from “de-platforming” users based on their political views.

This, the tech industry argues, has a major impact on their content moderation operations, and could allow for hateful content to run rampant online.

In essence, the HB 20 law from Texas prohibits social media firms (defined as having 50 million active monthly users and that rely primarily on user-generated content) from banning, demonetising or otherwise restricting content (that ordinarily would be banned) based on “the viewpoint of the user or another person”, whether or not that viewpoint is expressed on the platform itself.

The social media law also requires social media firms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc) to disclose how they promote and moderate content and mandates transparency reports, similar to those already produced by Facebook, Google and others.

It gives Texas officials or local residents the ability to sue social media firms over their moderation decisions, potentially exposing these firms to a wave of private lawsuits.

HB 20 has been driven by the belief among the right wing in the US that social media companies are biased in their content moderation decisions against conservative viewpoints.

In a filing leading up to Wednesday’s order, the technology groups challenging the Texas law said they planned to ask for the Supreme Court to rule on HB 20, and that Texas did not oppose the motion for a stay, CNN reported.

The Supreme Court has already indicated it is open to regulating social media platforms, agreeing this month to hear two cases that could indirectly narrow the scope of the tech industry’s all-important liability shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Florida law

It should be noted that another Republican controlled US state (Florida) also passed a similar social media law (SB 7072) in May 2021 – designed by that state’s republican governor, to prevent social media firms from ‘deplatforming’ political figures.

Donald Trump of course resides in Florida.

Last month, Florida’s attorney general called on the Supreme Court to review a social media law in that state.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier this year blocked Florida’s law, saying it was likely unconstitutional.

That finding created a split with the Fifth Circuit’s decision to uphold Texas’ law, making it even more likely for the Supreme Court to take up the matter, CNN reported.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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