The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will review two contradictory lower-court decisions involving laws from Texas and Florida concerning how social media platforms moderate content.
This case holds significant implications for major tech giants such as Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook), Alphabet’s YouTube, TikTok, X, and other companies that enable users to share content online.
Both the Texas and Florida laws aim to prevent social media sites from censoring political speech on their platforms. The tech companies have argued against these rulings, citing First Amendment rights and claiming that the laws would compel them to include material they deem inappropriate. Supporters of the laws, on the other hand, argue that platforms like Facebook and YouTube disproportionately limit conservative political viewpoints.
These laws have been the subject of legal battles, resulting in conflicting outcomes. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the validity of Texas’ House Bill 20 in a case brought forth by industry groups NetChoice and the Computer Communications Industry Association (CCIA). The circuit court explicitly stated, “We reject the idea that corporations have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say,” thereby overturning a previous lower-court ruling that deemed the law unconstitutional.
The Impact of the First Amendment on Social Media Content Moderation
In a recent ruling, the Eleventh Circuit struck down Florida’s social media law, known as SB 7072. The court held that social media companies are ‘private actors’ protected by the First Amendment, and their content moderation decisions are exercises of editorial judgment. According to the Eleventh Circuit, the provisions of the Florida law that restrict these platforms’ ability to engage in content moderation burden their constitutional prerogative.
This ruling has created a conflict between the Eleventh Circuit and the Fifth Circuit, which prompted both sides to expect the Supreme Court to address the matter. U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar filed a brief in August, urging the Court to take up the case and affirm the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling while reversing the Fifth Circuit’s decision. Prelogar argued that the content moderation activities of social media platforms are protected by the First Amendment. Former President Donald Trump also filed a brief with the Court, advocating for upholding both laws.
NetChoice, an advocacy group, expressed satisfaction with the Supreme Court’s decision to address the conflicting lower-court rulings. Chris Marchese, NetChoice’s Litigation Director, emphasized the importance of online services having the First Amendment right to host, curate, and share content as they see fit. Marchese believes that the internet is a crucial platform for free expression and must remain free from government censorship. NetChoice is confident that the Court will agree with this perspective.
Overall, this case raises significant questions about the intersection of social media, the First Amendment, and government regulations. The Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision will shape the future of content moderation on large platforms and have far-reaching implications for online freedom of expression.
CCIA President, Matt Schrues, embraced the court’s decision to address the matter, emphasizing the longstanding protection bestowed by the First Amendment upon citizens and private enterprises against governmental coercion of speech. The President expressed his satisfaction in the Supreme Court’s acknowledgment of this fundamental democratic principle and their agreement to hear the case.
It is noteworthy that Alphabet’s Google, Meta, and X maintain membership in both NetChoice and CCIA.