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Supreme Court blocks Texas HB 20 as social media censorship battle continues

In a Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday, Texas controversial HB 20 was blocked after it was just unblocked earlier in the month. If you are not aware, the HB 20 is a law that practically gives Texans the right to say whatever they want on social media platforms without facing any repercussions.

Interpreted as a viewpoint, the law is supposed to stop social media platforms from censoring users. If it goes into effect, YouTube, for example, cannot demonetise a channel (or video) that spreads falsehoods. Or, Twitter cannot soft block a user or apply a label to a Tweet that goes against its policy.

The Supreme Court petition had been filed by NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA). They bodies had managed to get a favourable ruling from a lower court in 2021 but the Fifth Circuit overturned the ruling in May 2022 without so much as an explanation.

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The argument for HB 20, from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, for example, is that social media platforms have too much power to be censoring content. Paxton was in favour of these companies treating posts as neutral.

“The platforms are the twenty-first century descendants of telegraph and telephone companies. While the platforms compare their business policies to classic examples of First Amendment speech, such as a newspaper’s decision to include an article in its pages, the platforms have disclaimed any such status over many years and in countless cases,” he wrote.

However, on the other side are NetChoice and the CCIA. They argue that the law makes social media platforms complacent in spreading ‘the vilest speech imaginable.’ They mentioned white supremacist manifestos, Nazi screeds, Russian-state propaganda, Holocaust denial, and terrorist-organization recruitment, as some of what may abound when content moderation is thrown out the door.

The legal battle over HB 20 is expected to continue in lower courts for now.

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Onwuasoanya Obinna

A reader of books and stringer of words. Passionate about Science and Tech. When not writing or reading he is surfing the web and Tweeting.