A controversial Texas law that would open social media companies up to lawsuits from aggrieved users just notched a surprise win. A trio of federal appeals court judges issued the ruling Wednesday, which pauses a temporary injunction that blocked the law from taking effect last year.
The law, HB 20, would prohibit tech platforms from removing or restricting content based on “the viewpoint of the user or another person” or “the viewpoint represented in the user’s expression” — some extremely broad criteria with a lot of room for interpretation.
Two tech industry groups, NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, pursued an injunction against the law last year, which was granted in December. During a hearing about HB 20 on Monday, one of the judges inexplicably told the trade groups that their tech industry clients were “internet providers” not websites.
“Encouraging lawsuits against companies exercising their First Amendment rights would violate the Constitution and put Texans at greater risk online,” the CCIA said during oral arguments on Monday. CCIA President Matt Schruers slammed Wednesday’s ruling for violating the First Amendment.
“Digital services have a right and a commitment to their communities to take action against problematic content on their platforms,” Schruers said. “That stands whether the content is racism and abuse or anti-American extremism or foreign propaganda.”
Proponents of the Texas law, crafted to punish tech companies for perceived anti-conservative bias, may have notched a win on Wednesday, but things certainly aren’t settled for HB 20 given its potentially massive implications for social media platforms operating in the state. NetChoice has already stated its intention to appeal the order.
“HB 20 is an assault on the First Amendment, and it’s constitutionally rotten from top to bottom,” NetChoice’s counsel said in a tweet. “So of course we’re going to appeal today’s unprecedented, unexplained, and unfortunate order by a split 2-1 panel.”
A federal judge blocked a similar law from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last year. In the decision, federal judge Robert Hinkle noted that the law “expressly” violated Section 230, which allows internet platforms to moderate content as they see fit. The judge also noted that ironically the law could violate social media companies’ own First Amendment rights, even while ostensibly pushing a free speech agenda.