Big Tech Asks Supreme Court to Block Texas Internet Law

Gavel in front of a computer
(Image credit: Larry Washburn)

Social media companies are asking the Supreme Court to prevent the enforcement of a Texas law they say prevents online platforms from exercising editorial discretion over content and irreversibly tarnishes their businesses.

The law, which passed a Republican-controlled legislature September 9, 2021, “prohibits an interactive computer service from censoring a user, a user’s expression, or a user's ability to receive the expression of another person based on … the viewpoint of the user or another person.” It also requires large social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to disclose how they manage content, to publish an acceptable use policy that users can find telling them what content is acceptable, to publish quarterly transparency reports, and to have a complaint system in place for violations of its policies.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association and NetChoice, whose membership includes Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter, filed an emergency brief with the Supreme Court Friday (May 13) asking it to block the statute, calling it an "unprecedented assault on the editorial discretion of private websites, listing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vimeo and YouTube among those under assault.

Earlier in the week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in a split 2-1 decision reversed a lower court opinion and lifted a preliminary injunction against the Texas law. CCIA and NetChoice want the Supreme Court to overrule the 5th Circuit panel.

Also: Big Tech Fires Latest Legal Volley at Texas Social Media Law

The social media companies say that denying them the ability to engage in any viewpoint-based content moderation would "compel platforms to disseminate all sorts of objectionable viewpoints—such as Russia’s propaganda claiming that its invasion of Ukraine is justified, ISIS propaganda claiming that extremism is warranted, neo-Nazi or KKK screeds denying or supporting the Holocaust, and encouraging children to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior like eating disorders."

They said the sites can't comply with the law without "irreversibly transforming" their worldwide platforms, in the process tarnishing their reputations, causing users and advertisers to flee.

They said the court should maintain the status quo while the courts consider the merits of their underlying challenge to the law. ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.