On December 1, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas blocked a Texas law designed to protect free speech by targeting censorship on social media.
In September, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 20 into law as part of a campaign to halt perceived acts of censorship carried out by leading social media platforms. This law aimed to bring accountability to social media giants that de-platformed individuals for their political views.
The law came on the heels of the controversial banning of high-profile conservatives from social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.
Former President Donald Trump is one of the most prominent political figures banned from these two social media leaders.
Sydnie Henry of Texas Scorecard noted that House Bill 20 also gives citizens the power to sue social media platforms for wrongful termination and makes significant strides in halting social media censorship.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube, which are all NetChoice members, would be negatively impacted by the Texas law. NetChoice, LLC is one of the two co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
NetChoice President and CEO Steve DelBianco stated that allowing HB 20 to take effect would “inflict significant harm on Texans by threatening the safety of users, creators, and businesses that use these websites to reach audiences in a family-friendly way.”
Under this law, the companies would be required to increase public transparency in their moderation practices and in the banning of comments and posts, unless the posts featured illegal sexual content or acts of individuals inciting violence.
Late on December 1, the day before the law was slated to go into effect, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman ruled in favor of the plaintiffs NetChoice, LLC and the Computer and Communication Industry Association (CCIA), granting a preliminary injunction to stop the enforcement of the Texas law.
In Florida, a law similar to Texas’ HB 20 was recently ruled unconstitutional and was overturned. That decision is currently on appeal.
The plaintiffs in the Texas case argued that the social media platform law infringes on the editorial discretion of social media platforms.
Commenting on the injunction, CCIA President Matt Schruers stated, “This ruling upholds the First Amendment and protects internet users. Without this temporary injunction, Texas’s social media law would make the internet a more dangerous place by tying the hands of companies protecting users from abuse, scams, or extremist propaganda.”
“Today’s outcome is not surprising,” Schruers’ continued. The First Amendment ensures that the Government can’t force a citizen or company to be associated with a viewpoint they disapprove of, and that applies with particular force when a State law would prevent companies from enforcing policies against Nazi propaganda, hate speech, and disinformation from foreign agents.”
Henry observed that Judge Pitman is an Obama-era appointee who has a track record of blocking Texas laws, as seen with his decision to block the Texas Heartbeat Act in October and allowing the University of Texas to maintain its affirmative action policies in July.
Attorney General Ken Paxton and the State of Texas are expected to appeal the decision to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.