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Supreme Court keeps hold on state laws that limit social media censorship

Trade associations representing social platforms sued over laws passed in Florida and Texas that intended to protect conservative viewpoints online.
Supreme Court Biden Administration Social Media
Posted at 9:30 AM, Jul 01, 2024

The United States Supreme Court declined to rule on two cases Monday regarding whether social media sites have the right to moderate content on their platforms. In a unanimous vote, the high court returned the cases to lower courts.

The cases stem from two laws passed in Florida and Texas in 2021 that intended to protect conservative viewpoints online. Both laws aimed to address complaints that the social media companies were liberal-leaning and censored users based on their viewpoints.

The Florida law (SB7072) bars the permanent removal of political candidates from social media, while the Texas law (HB 20) prohibits social media platforms from banning content based on any user's viewpoint.

Related Story: Supreme Court Justices appear skeptical of social media state laws

The laws were passed after platforms like Facebook and Twitter (now known as X) banned former President Donald Trump for his posts about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and tried to reduce misinformation about the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trade associations representing the social platforms then sued, arguing the laws violated the platforms’ free speech rights. They claimed social media sites are like news organizations and should be free to decide what content to allow on their platforms without government oversight.

During the hearing, justices raised concerns about how sweeping the measures’ impact could be.

"This is so, so broad. It’s covering almost everything. But the one thing I know about the internet is that its variety is infinite," said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Justices also asked whether such regulations would affect privately owned marketplace sites such as Etsy, Uber or Venmo. Other questions focused on censorship versus editorial discretion.

Related story: Supreme Court rejects Republican-led challenge to remove misinformation from social media

Underscoring the complexity of the issue, several privacy advocacy groups want the justices to protect the government’s ability to regulate social media companies to some extent. A lawyer for the Electronic Freedom Foundation expressed deep skepticism of state governments regulating how a company moderates its content.

"These laws represent profound intrusions into social media sites' ability to decide for themselves," EFF Senior Staff Attorney and Civil Liberties Director David Greene told Scripps News. "... When platforms have First Amendment rights to curate the user-generated content they publish, they can create distinct forums that accommodate diverse viewpoints, interests, and beliefs."

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