Two big tech business groups representing some of the biggest names in tech, including Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, are suing the state of Texas over new state law banning their platforms from cracking down on far-right content.
The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice co-filed the new lawsuit, which you can read for yourself here. In a nutshell, both allege that the law, known as HB 20 or “Freedom from Censorship Act”, which Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed earlier this month, will end up doing more harm than good. At a minimum, according to the lawsuit, the law would hamper a major platform’s ability to crush violent hate speech and disinformation, which the lawsuit claims violate companies’ First Amendment rights. Considering that moderation of content is kind of struggle for them already, you can imagine why a law like this would occur to them.
“At a minimum, HB 20 would unconstitutionally require platforms like YouTube and Facebook to broadcast, for example, pro-Nazi speeches, terrorist propaganda, foreign government disinformation and medical disinformation,” the lawsuit said. “In fact, lawmakers have rejected amendments that would explicitly allow platforms to exclude disinformation about vaccines, terrorist content and Holocaust denial. “
It’s not very often that we’re inclined to agree with think tanks and business groups with deep pockets. direct undercutting most of the efforts of technological legislation, but in this case, they are right. Texas lawmakers were pressured to adopt HB 20 by a wide margin following Donald Trump brutal suspension of all major platforms after the January 6 attack on the US capital. While Facebook and Twitter argued that the decision was based on “the ex-presidentserious violations“Of their rules and the risk of”new incitement to violence”If he was allowed to stay, the Lone Star State saw it differently. They saw this move as conservative censorship, outright, and that’s where HB 20 comes in.
The law basically prohibits social platforms with more than 50 million users (like the ones behind this new lawsuit) from banning users on the basis of a political point of view alone. These same platforms should create complaint systems where people could challenge a company’s decisions to remove their content – and if those people are residents of Texas (including Texas lawmakers), HB 20 allows them to file a complaint against said companies if they believe they have been wrongly banned.
In addition to claiming that HB 20 violates companies’ First Amendment rights, the complaint further claims that the law violates Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Adopted in 1996, Section 230 has long been considered the basic law of the Internet because of the liability protections it offers businesses against lawsuits against most user-generated content, as well as the power that it gives companies to moderate their platforms. In recent years, however, Section 230 has become a punching bag for politicians. who don’t understand what the law really does.
“Pursuant to Article 230 (e) (3), State law is expressly preempted to the extent that because it claims to restrict editorial discretion in good faith, ”we read in the lawsuit. “Therefore, the parts of HB 20 which exhibit platforms for responsibility for their good faith moderation of the content the decisions are expressly preempted by 47 USC § 230 (e) (3).
HB 20 is arguably one of the dumbest tech laws in America, and it’s not even original how stupid it is. In May, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a oddly similar invoice which aimed to prevent major platforms from banning political candidates or anyone running for office, no matter how dirty their tweets or posts were. Those same business groups sued Florida back then, the same way they sue Texas now. And they won. The federal judge in charge of the case likened DeSantis’ law to “a case of a house fire to roast a pig,” which is a nice way to put what many of us already knew: the platforms social media unquestionably have content moderation issues, but conservative censorship is far from one of them.
Will the same thing happen with Texas law? It seems likely! As Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, told reporters, forcing tech companies to unilaterally accord “equal treatment in all points of view” will end with “political rhetoric from the Nazi Party and extremist messages from Taliban sympathizers on an equal footing with God bless America.”
Content moderation, like any moderation, is not easy problem of freedom of expression. It is simply to say, “we don’t say that here”, And then penalize people when they, well, say that here, whatever“ that ”is. Maybe instead of being mad at Silicon Valley and going potentially unconstitutional laws that, ironically, limit freedom of expression, curators should start using platforms again for what they were always meant to be: sharing cat photos. No one will censor them then.