May 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Appeals court lets Texas social media law take effect

Photo of the Texas state capitol with Texas and American flags flying on a staff

An American flag flies with the Texas state flag outside the Texas State Capitol building in Austin on March 15, 2017. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Texas law aimed at punishing social media companies if they "censor" users will go into effect for now, a three-person panel of federal appeals court judges ruled on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The move, which stays a lower court order that temporarily blocked the law, is a win for Republicans who claim social media companies have waged a campaign to silence conservative ideas and beliefs.

Details: The law allows users to sue a social media company if they are blocked from posting or have their posts removed, which civil liberties experts and tech advocates argue would force companies to let problematic speech such as hate and misinformation stay up on their platforms, Protocol reports.

  • Wednesday's decision was supported by two unnamed judges who did not immediately provide the court's reasoning.

Catch up quick: The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice filed suit against Texas shortly after the law was enacted, calling it unconstitutional.

  • A lower court judge ruled in December that the law "prohibits virtually all content moderation, the very tool that social media platforms employ to make their platforms safe, useful, and enjoyable for users."
  • After the law was blocked, a spokesperson for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told the Austin American-Statesman that "[a]lowing biased social media companies to cancel conservative speech is hostile to the free speech foundation America was built on."

What they're saying: "This unexplained order contravenes established First Amendment law," CCIA president Matt Schruers said in a statement. "No option is off the table. We will do what is necessary to ensure that the free market, not government fiat, decides what speech digital services do and do not disseminate."

  • "In an unusual and unfortunate move, a split 2-1 5th Circuit panel lifted the injunction without ruling on the merits and without issuing an opinion explaining the order," said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice.
  • "Because HB 20 is constitutionally rotten through and through, we are weighing our options and plan to appeal the order immediately."
  • Attorney Scott Wilkens of The Knight First Amendment Institute, which filed an amicus brief supporting the social media companies' challenge, also released a statement saying the decision "will have terrible consequences for speech online."
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