In a significant development, President Biden’s administration has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to delve into a social media debate involving laws passed by Texas and Florida. The laws at issue, which have sparked conversation over freedom of speech and content moderation, aim to challenge the authority of social media companies to control objectionable content on their platforms.
The disputes lie in the specific legislation put forth by the states, both staunchly supported by Republican lawmakers. Their proposed laws target the actions of social media platforms in curbing content deemed objectionable, labeling such actions as impermissible censorship. The states contend that these regulations hinder free expression and inhibit conservative voices from being heard on the platforms, emphasizing the decisions of some platforms to ban President Trump’s accounts after the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Cases in Question
In Nos. 22-277, 22-393 and 22-555, technology industry groups comprising members like Meta Platforms Inc (formerly known as Facebook), Alphabet Inc (the parent company of Google), and X (formerly Twitter), challenge these laws. The groups argue that the legislation infringes upon their First Amendment rights by impeding their editorial discretion over content posted on their platforms.
Florida’s law, currently in limbo after a lower court’s partial ruling against it, compels larger platforms to host certain types of speech that they might not willingly host. It requires transparency in censorship rules and forbids the banning of political candidates. On the other hand, Texas’ law prevents the censoring of users based on their “viewpoint.” Advocates of content moderation stress the necessity of tackling misinformation and extremist content.
The Justice Department’s Involvement
The U.S. Justice Department has been invited to weigh in on this dispute. It argues that these cases warrant the Court’s attention because the state laws infringe upon the platforms’ rights protected under the First Amendment. Elizabeth Prelogar, writing on behalf of the Justice Department, emphasized that when social media platforms curate, edit, and present third-party speech to the public, they are engaging in a form of speech protected by the Constitution.
The likelihood of Supreme Court review of one or both rulings was already high before the Biden administration filed its brief. A cert. grant is now likely.