US appeals court rejects big tech’s right to regulate online speech

The Facebook, Google and Twitter logos are seen in this combination photo from Reuters files. REUTERS/File Photo

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Sept 16 (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld a Texas law that bars big social media companies from banning or censoring users based on “viewpoint,” a setback for social media groups. tech industry who say the measure would turn platforms into bastions of dangerous content.

The largely 2-1 ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals creates the opportunity for the US Supreme Court to rule on the law, which conservatives say and right-wing commentators, is necessary to prevent “Big Tech” from suppressing their views.

“Today, we reject the idea that corporations have the right to freely censor what people say,” Judge Andrew Oldham, appointed by former President Donald Trump, wrote in the ruling.

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

Tech groups that challenged the law and lost Friday’s ruling include NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which count Meta Platforms’ Facebook (META.O), Twitter (TWTR.N) and Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O). ) YouTube as members.

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

The association said on Friday it disagreed with requiring private companies to give equal treatment in all respects. “‘God Bless America’ and ‘Death to America’ are two points of view, and it is reckless and unconstitutional for the State of Texas to compel a private company to treat them the same,” he said. said in a statement.

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

Texas law prohibits social media companies with at least 50 million monthly active users from acting to “censor” users based on their “viewpoint” and allows users or the Texas Attorney General to take legal action to enforce the law.

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

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

In May, the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit found that most similar Florida laws violate companies’ free speech rights and cannot be enforced. Read more

(This story largely corrects the 2-1 decision in the second paragraph)

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Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Leslie Adler

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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