5th Circuit upholds Texas law prohibiting social media companies from filtering hate speech

5th Circuit upholds Texas law prohibiting social media companies from filtering hate speech

Isabel Webb Carey
Isabel Webb Carey
September 19, 2022

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday in favor of allowing a Texas law prohibiting large social media companies from censoring users’ viewpoints.

H.B. 20 had previously been blocked from taking effect following a lawsuit filed last year by tech trade groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represent Facebook, Twitter and Google. The groups argued that the Texas law violates the First Amendment rights of internet companies to curate content posted on their platforms and decide which types of speech they see fit to be there.

The court ruled against the plaintiffs’ argument that the law was unconstitutional, accused tech groups of trying to “muzzle free speech,” and demanded that they give equal treatment to all speech, including those containing extremist views.

“Today we reject the idea that corporations have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say,” Andrew Oldham, a Donald Trump appointee who had previously served as Abbott’s general counsel, wrote in the 5th Circuit’s decision.

The plaintiffs released a response in which they argued that the decision would put Americans at risk by placing “foreign propaganda and extremism on equal footing with decent Internet users.”

“‘God Bless America’ and ‘Death to America’ are both viewpoints, and it is unwise and unconstitutional for the State of Texas to compel a private business to treat those the same,” the group said.

The ruling is a win for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in their efforts to combat what they call censorship of conservative viewpoints by social media companies.

In a tweet, Paxton said, “I just secured a MASSIVE VICTORY for the Constitution & Free Speech in fed court: #BigTech CANNOT censor the political voices of ANY Texan!”

The Texas law does not immediately take effect, but it will do so once the appeals court issues written instructions to the district court that had decided the case. It will drastically restrict the ability of social media companies to police their platforms and force the platforms to keep up content that could violate their hate speech rules.

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Isabel Webb Carey

Isabel Webb Carey

Isabel Webb Carey attends the University of Texas at Austin in the Plan II Honors Program with a certificate in Core Texts and Ideas. Her interests include education, local governance, sustainability, and equity. Isabel enjoys dancing, hiking, and live music. She is also a staff writer for the Texas Orator. Email her at isabelwebbcarey@gmail.com
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