Texas Law Regulating Social Media Platforms Back in Effect After Court Ruling

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
May 12, 2022 Updated: May 12, 2022

Texas can bar social media platforms from censoring users based on their political views, a federal appeals court ruled on May 11.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed a district judge’s decision that blocked Texas from enforcing a law that bars platforms from censoring a user based on their viewpoint or location.

The panel didn’t explain its decision.

The panel consisted of Judges Edith Jones, a Reagan appointee; Leslie Southwick, a George W. Bush appointee; and Andrew Oldham, a Trump appointee.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton cheered the development.

“My office just secured another BIG WIN against BIG TECH,” the Republican said in a statement, adding that the court “made the right call here.”

The law, House Bill 20, is now back in effect.

Plaintiffs said they would appeal, while decrying the lack of an explanation from the court.

“Because HB 20 is constitutionally rotten through and through, we are weighing our options and plan to appeal the order immediately,” Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, said in a statement.

The group represents a number of large technology companies, including Twitter, Google, and Amazon.

The bill says that each person in Texas “has a fundamental interest in the free exchange of ideas and information” and the state has a fundamental interest in protecting that free exchange.

It forces social media platforms to disclose how they manage content, including moderating content; to publish a biannual transparency report; and bars platforms from censoring users based on their “viewpoint” or “geographic location.”

The law only applies to platforms that have more than 50 million active users in the United States in a month.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed the bill into law in September 2021. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, an Obama appointee, blocked it about three months later.

NetChoice had sued, arguing the law unlawfully prevented Big Tech companies from “exercising editorial discretion” over their privately owned websites.

Pitman agreed, finding that the law’s prohibitions on censorship violated the First Amendment.

That prompted an appeal.

Lawyers for the state told the appeals court panel in a recent hearing that social media platforms “control the modern-day public square, but they abusively suppress speech in that square.”

A similar law in Florida remains partially blocked after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, a Clinton appointee, ruled in 2021 that such provisions violated the U.S. Constitution.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.