Supreme Court halts Florida and Texas social media cases that could overturn platform moderation

Supreme Court Building – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Tinnaporn Sathapornnanont

The Supreme Court postponed a decision on whether to consider two cases contesting social media rules in Texas and Florida that could fundamentally alter how platforms choose which posts to erase and which ones to promote.

The cases were both brought by tech industry associations NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), and the court requested advice from the U.S. solicitor general on both on Monday. The groups contend that the regulations infringe on businesses’ First Amendment rights to pick and choose which speeches they host.

Republican officials in Texas and Florida have pushed for the legislation in an effort to stop what they see as unfair social media suppression of conservative beliefs. The majority of sites have insisted that they only apply their terms of service.

The social media regulations will compel platforms to maintain communications even if they make misleading claims about extremely sensitive topics, according to NetChoice and CCIA’s warnings. In an emergency application to stop Texas’ law from going into effect, the groups cited examples such as “Russia’s propaganda claiming that its invasion of Ukraine is justified, ISIS propaganda claiming that extremism is warranted, neo-Nazi or KKK screeds denying or supporting the Holocaust, and encouraging children to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior like eating disorders.”

Without addressing the case’s merits, the Supreme Court had decided in favor of the interim ban on the Texas statute. Additionally, an appeals court temporarily blocked Florida’s law from going into effect. The laws are still in question while the top court decides whether or not to take the cases.

Next month, the court is due to hear two further cases that may possibly affect the big platforms’ economic models. Gonzalez v. Google, in particular, examines specifically whether algorithms that arrange and promote content on websites can be shielded by the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230, which protects online services from being held accountable for the content posted by their users. Social media corporations may change how they conduct business to lessen their exposure to legal liability if the court rules that websites should be held more accountable for the dissemination of messages from third parties.

The court’s invitation for input, according to NetChoice and CCIA, is a promising sign.

“We are excited that the Supreme Court is seriously considering taking up our cases and is asking the Solicitor General for its take on the cases,” NetChoice Counsel Chris Marchese said in a statement. “We expect the Solicitor General will recognize the First Amendment rights of websites and to call on the Supreme Court to take up the cases and find for NetChoice and CCIA.”

CCIA President Matt Schruers agreed that the request “underscores the importance of these cases.”

“It is crucial that the Supreme Court ultimately resolve this matter,” Schruers said. “It would be a dangerous precedent to let government insert itself into the decisions private companies make on what material to publish or disseminate online. The First Amendment protects both the right to speak and the right not to be compelled to speak, and we should not underestimate the consequences of giving government control over online speech in a democracy.”

Representatives for the Texas and Florida attorneys general’s offices did not immediately reply to calls for comment.

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