US Court of Appeals Rejects Big Tech’s Right to Regulate Online Speech

A US appeals court on Friday upheld a Texas law that bars large social media companies from banning or censoring users based on their “point of view,” a setback for tech industry groups that say that the measure would turn the platforms into bastions of dangerous content.

The 3-0 ruling by the New Orleans-based US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit establishes the possibility of the US Supreme Court ruling on the law, which conservatives and right-wing commentators have said it is necessary to prevent “big tech companies” from suppressing their views.

“Today we reject the idea that corporations have a free First Amendment right to censor what people say,” Justice Andrew Oldham, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, wrote in the ruling.

The Texas law was passed by the Republican-led state legislature and signed by its Republican governor.

Tech groups that challenged the law and were on the losing end of Friday’s ruling include NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which count Meta Platforms’ Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube as members.

They have sought to preserve the rights to regulate user content when they believe it may lead to violence, citing concerns that unregulated platforms will allow extremists such as Nazi supporters, terrorists and hostile foreign governments.

The association said on Friday that it did not agree with forcing private companies to treat all points of view the same. “‘God Bless America’ and ‘Death to America’ are points of view, and it is reckless and unconstitutional for the state of Texas to force a private company to treat them the same way,” he said in a statement.

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Some conservatives have called the practices of social media companies abusive, pointing to Twitter’s permanent suspension of Trump from the platform shortly after the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by a mob. of his followers. Twitter had cited “the risk of further incitement to violence” as a reason.

Texas law prohibits social media companies with at least 50 million monthly active users from acting to “censor” users based on their “point of view,” and allows users or the Texas Attorney General to file lawsuits to enforce the law.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton hailed the ruling on Twitter as a “major victory for the constitution and free speech.”

Because the 5th Circuit’s ruling conflicts with part of the 11th Circuit’s ruling, aggrieved parties have a stronger case for asking the Supreme Court to hear the matter.

In May, the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit found that much of a similar Florida law violates the free speech rights of businesses and is unenforceable.

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