NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) have filed a lawsuit in Texas to prevent the state from enforcing HB 20, a new law prohibiting large social media sites from restricting or removing information based on the user’s “viewpoint.” The suit was filed two weeks after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill, and it follows a similar rule that was successfully stopped in Florida.
HB 20 is one of several state-level initiatives aimed at making firms like Facebook and Twitter wary of censoring conservative users’ accounts. The bill is being marketed as an anti-censorship measure, but NetChoice and the CCIA contend that it, like the Florida law before it, infringes on firms’ First Amendment rights to pick what speech they host.
“At its core, HB 20 imposes impermissible content- and viewpoint-based classifications to compel a small number of platforms to publish speech and speakers that violate their policies — and to present that speech in the same way that the platforms present other speech that does not violate their policies,” according to the complaint. “At the very least, HB 20 would oblige platforms like YouTube and Facebook to distribute pro-Nazi speech, terrorist propaganda, foreign government disinformation, and medical misinformation in an unlawful manner.”
The case is against transparency measures that would force firms to “explain in excruciating detail how they exercise their editorial discretion over possibly billions of pieces of content,” according to the complaint. It claims that the statute as a whole violates web services’ right to free expression. It also claims that the bill is unconstitutionally vague, claiming that terms like “viewpoint” could “encompass essentially all expression,” that the ban on “censoring” content could “encompass even the basic functions that Plaintiffs’ members use to present content,” and that the bill’s definition of “social media platform” could include services like eBay or the gaming and “metaverse” industries.
HB 20, like other state legislation, could be overridden by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal rule that overrides conflicting state policies. Web services can’t be viewed as the publisher or speaker of third-party content, and they can’t be penalized for removing “objectionable” content from their services, according to Section 230.
In a conference call with reporters, NetChoice president and CEO Steve DelBianco stressed that the plaintiffs aren’t challenging a portion of the rule against “censorship” on email services right away because they’re focusing on the law’s most susceptible sections. However, CCIA president Matt Schruers said that if necessary, they will pursue that clause. “The Texas government is attempting to force more spam into your email, and I don’t see the point,” Schruers adds. “No one wants any more spam,” says the narrator.
Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled against Florida’s social media law, handing NetChoice and the CCIA a preliminary injunction and declaring it likely unconstitutional. The Texas law will not raise all of the same concerns as the Florida law, for example, it will not have Florida’s famed provision for theme park companies. However, because the two policies are so similar, Texas (along with nine other states) filed a brief in support of Florida’s case, claiming that a negative finding might put comparable legislation like HB 20 in jeopardy.