US Supreme Court Halts Texas Social Media 'Censorship' Law

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The US Supreme Court building

The US Supreme Court puts a Texas social media law on hold.

Marguerite Reardon/CNET

What's happening

Texas law HB20 would stop social media companies from banning users or blocking posts because of their political viewpoints. The Supreme Court has put the law on hold while a lower court considers its constitutionality.

Why it matters

This law and others, like one in Florida, are all about the power of companies like Facebook and Twitter and how social media fits into the political landscape in the US.

The US Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked a Texas law that prohibits large social media companies like Twitter and Facebook from banning users or blocking posts based on political viewpoints. The court's 5-4 decision puts the law on hold while a constitutional challenge to the law proceeds in a lower court.

Billed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's office as protecting Texans "from wrongful censorship on social media platforms," the law would also allow residents of the state to sue companies with at least 50 million monthly users in the US for reinstatement of accounts.

The justices vacated an appeals court decision earlier this month that allowed the law, known as HB20, to go into effect. The appeals court ruling blocked a preliminary injunction issued in December by a US judge, who wrote that social media companies have a First Amendment right to moderate content on their platforms.

Conservative critics have accused social media companies of censoring content for ideological reasons, a claim the social media firms have repeatedly denied. Critics of the law counter that it would force social media companies to leave offensive content, hate speech and misinformation on their platforms.

"It will be impossible for these websites to comply with HB20's key provisions without irreversibly transforming their worldwide online platforms to disseminate harmful, offensive, extremist, and disturbing content," argued NetChoice and the Computer and Communication Industry Association, the organizations that filed the challenge to the Texas law.

The Supreme Court "has repeatedly recognized that private entities have the right under the First Amendment to determine whether and how to disseminate speech," the organizations said earlier this month.

NetChoice on Tuesday applauded the court's decision, calling HB20 "a constitutional trainwreck."

"We are relieved that the First Amendment, open internet, and the users who rely on it remain protected from Texas's unconstitutional overreach," Chris Marchese, a lawyer representing NetChoice, said in a statement.

Twitter declined to comment, while Facebook and Abbott's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

In June 2021, a federal judge blocked a Florida law from taking effect that would have allowed the state to punish social media companies for banning politicians or political candidates from their platforms. The judge in that case found the law's prohibition on "deplatforming" may violate companies' free speech rights and said that the legislation on the whole is "viewpoint-based."