Landmark Ruling Could Prevent Big Tech Censorship
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a Texas law that prevents large social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter from censoring or banning a user based on their “viewpoint.”
A prime example of this occurred in January 2021 when Facebook and Twitter banned former President Donald Trump following the events of January 6th. The decision cut him off from millions of followers and earned criticism from leaders throughout the world – including from people who opposed Trump.
“We reject the Platforms’ attempts to extract a freewheeling censorship right from the Constitution’s free speech guarantee,” wrote 5th Circuit Judge Andrew Oldham in the ruling. “The Platforms are not newspapers. Their censorship is not speech.”
The challenge to the Texas law was brought by NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), whose members include Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
“We strongly disagree with the court’s decision. Forcing private companies to give equal treatment to all viewpoints on their platforms places foreign propaganda and extremism on equal footing with decent Internet users, and places Americans at risk,” argued a CCIA spokesperson. “‘God Bless America’ and ‘Death to America’ are both viewpoints. It is unwise and unconstitutional for the state of Texas to compel a private business to treat those the same.”
For years, Big Tech has argued that it must police online content in order to prevent violence. I don’t think anyone has a problem with Big Tech’s censorship of comments like “Death to America,” but what we do have a problem with is censorship based on political ideology.
Social media companies are widely believed to have influenced recent elections in favor of Democrats. A perfect example is the mass censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story that was published by the New York Times just before the 2020 presidential election. Claiming to believe the story was Russian disinformation, social media sites downvoted or removed the story from their platforms even though knowledge of the story could have impacted voters’ decisions (read more here).
Google is also guilty of partisan censorship. As I wrote in July, the spam filtering algorithm used by Google’s Gmail was recently found to have robbed the GOP of up to $2 billion in fundraising (read more here).
Celebrating the 5th Circuit Court’s decision on Twitter, Texas Attorney Genearl Ken Paxton described the ruling as a “massive victory for the constitution and free speech.”
The court’s ruling removes a block placed on the Texas statute earlier this year by the Supreme Court and will allow it to take effect soon. The law applies only to tech companies with at least 50 million monthly users and gives both the state and its residents legal grounds to sue companies that violate the law. Republicans hope the issue of Big Tech censorship will rise to the Supreme Court, especially given the fact that the 5th Circuit Court’s ruling contradicts a similar ruling issued by the 11th Circuit Court in May.