Texas Court Blocks Sec. 230-Related Social Media Law

(Image credit: Future)

A U.S. District Court in Texas has blocked the Dec. 2 effective date of a state law that prevents “censorship“ by social media platforms based on viewpoint, according to the groups who sought that action.

The law will now not go into effect until the court has heard the underlying legal challenge to the law.

NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which took the state to court over the law, had sought the injunction, arguing that the law would effectively ban content moderation and thus would allow "pro-Nazi speech, medical misinformation, terrorist propaganda, and foreign government disinformation" to be posted on social media sites without recourse by the platforms without facing civil suits.

There is a pretty high bar for granting such injunctions, including the likelihood that NetChoice and CCIA will win the underlying case on the merits, and that allowing the law to go into effect would cause harms not easy to undo.

The law, which passed Sept. 9, “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 Google 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 groups filed suit against a similar Florida law, which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional. 

Both the Texas and Florida legislatures are controlled by Republicans, many of whom have alleged that social media have been censoring conservative content and voices, pointing to bans on former President Donald Trump's accounts.

CCIA, whose members include from Amazon to Yahoo!, and NetChoice, whose members include, well, from Amazon to Yahoo!, said the Texas bill would “compel private companies to host everything from Nazi propaganda to anti-American extremism or risk being sued,” adding, ”The First Amendment protects citizens and private companies from being compelled to speak.“

"It exposes those platforms to the exact liability that Congress protected against in enacting Section 230. And it both regulates how the targeted websites disseminate speech to and from users around the globe—regardless of their connection to Texas—and specifically requires the websites to continue doing business in Texas," the groups had told the court back in September.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the federal law that generally provides immunity for third-party content posted to social media sites and other online platforms.

CCIA praised the court decision.

“This ruling upholds the First Amendment and protects internet users, said CCIA president Matt Schruers. "Without this temporary injunction, Texas’s social media law would make the internet a more dangerous place by tying the hands of companies protecting users from abuse, scams, or extremist propaganda. 

“Today’s outcome is not surprising. The First Amendment ensures that the Government can’t force a citizen or company to be associated with a viewpoint they disapprove of, and that applies with particular force when a State law would prevent companies from enforcing policies against Nazi propaganda, hate speech, and disinformation from foreign agents.” ■

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.