Appeals court allows Texas law prohibiting social media companies from banning users over political views

It looks like Texas’ law preventing the Big Tech social media corporations from banning users over their political views and opinions is receiving a stay of execution.

According to a Fox Business report, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that allows the Republican-backed Texas law to go back into effect in the interim, while the case wends its long and winding way through the lower district courts—a process that can be of indefinite length. The federal appeals court’s ruling grants the state’s request for a stay of an earlier order, issued in December, that blocked the Texas law.

The appeals court, however, did not explain the reason for its ruling, nor did it in any way evaluate the constitutionality or other merits or demerits of the law.

The ruling must be considered a win for Texas Republicans and free speech advocates around the country. Conservatives have long argued, with good reason, that the major, “legacy” social media platforms—including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube—have engaged in blatant discriminatory practices against anyone whose political views lean right of center.

The issue became considerably more serious when Twitter and other platforms suspended President Donald Trump’s various social media accounts in the days and weeks following accusations that he incited a “riot” on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. Twitter’s suspension transformed into a permanent ban, and the fact that social media platforms—acting in ideological lockstep with Democratic politicians and leftist activists—had such power over the speech even of powerful public figures came as a great shock to many conservatives.

The Texas law, known as HB 20, has provisions that require large social media platforms—defined as having more than 50 million monthly users—to disclose to the public all information about the moderation and removal of content, as well as about account suspensions. Republican lawmakers crafted the bill as a rebuke to social media platforms and their violation of the free speech of users—which only ever seems to affect those with right-leaning views.

As reported in The Texas Tribune, in December a federal judge blocked the law from being enacted, ruling in a case brought by industry trade groups that represent tech titans like Google and Twitter. At the time, the judge ruled that the law should be blocked while the case continues through the lower courts, agreeing with the groups’ argument that the First Amendment protects the rights of tech companies to moderate their content.

Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the decision by the 5th Circuit.

In a tweet yesterday, Paxton wrote: “My office just secured another BIG WIN against BIG TECH. Texas’ HB20 is back in effect. The 5th Circuit made the right call here, and I look forward to continuing to defend the constitutionality of #HB20.”

The issue of social media censorship has become a much more pressing issue in recent weeks, as billionaire Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter seems to signal to leftists that their unilateral control of speech platforms may be coming to an end. At a recent tech conference, Musk made it clear that he felt that Trump’s ban by Twitter was a mistake and that he would be reversing it.

So it remains to be seen if, amidst ongoing sea changes in the tech industry, the Texas anti-censorship law will even be necessary.


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Todd Jaquith


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