Texas Law Bans Social Media ‘De-Platforming’

The governor of the US state of Texas has signed a bill prohibiting social media companies from “de-platforming” users based on their political views.

The law, passed as HB 20 earlier this month, prohibits social media firms from banning, demonetising or otherwise restricting content based on “the viewpoint of the user or another person”, whether or not that viewpoint is expressed on the platform itself.

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

A separate provision requires social media companies to evaluate illegal content within 48 hours of being notified of it.

Donald Trump was banned from social media services after his followers stormed the US Capitol building in January. Image credit: US House of Representatives

Content rules

The law applies to web services with more than 50 million active users that allow people to “communicate with other users for the primary purpose of posting information, comments, messages, or images”, exclusing internet service providers and news or entertainment websites.

It includes a section aimed at email platforms, making it unlawful for them to “intentionally impede the transmission of another person ’s electronic mail message based on the content of the message” with exceptions for malicious code, obscenity, illegal content or violations of existing anti-spam laws.

HB 20 is similar to a social media law passed in Florida in May, but lacks some of that law’s particular features, such as protections for political candidates and an exemption for companies that own a theme park.

Former US president Donald Trump, who lives in Florida, was banned from social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter after a group of his supporters stormed into the Capitol building in January.

Legal challenges

The Texas law is likely to face legal challenges, like Florida’s version, parts of which were suspended by a federal judge in June, who ruled that it violated the First Amendment right to free speech.

The Florida law “compels providers to host speech that violates their standards”, the judge said in the ruling.

NetChoice, one of the plaintiffs in the Florida lawsuit, said HB 20 has “the same First Amendment flaws as the Florida law” and “forces websites to host obscene, anti-semitic, racist, hateful and otherwise awful content”.

“Moderation of user posts is crucial to keeping the internet safe for Texas families, but this bill would put the Texas government in charge of content policies,” said NetChoice president Steve DelBianco.

The Texas law is due to come into force in December.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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