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Tech Trade Groups Petitioned the Supreme Court on the Texas social media Law

The computer industry has petitioned the Supreme Court to uphold their First Amendment rights to delete extremist and hate content from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, alleging that a Texas statute prohibiting “censorship” of ideas is unconstitutional.

On Thursday, two of the largest technology trade associations asked the Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court verdict that maintained the Texas legislation. It’s the latest development in the continuing dispute between conservatives, who claim giant internet platforms unfairly target their content, and the industry, which claims it should be able to exercise editorial control over its platforms and monitor what users do and publish.

NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represent Facebook, Google, and Twitter, are appealing a September verdict by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld H.B. 20, a Texas statute prohibiting internet platforms from “censoring” perspectives. According to a copy of the petition obtained by POLITICO, the groups argue that viewpoint-based rules that limit websites’ editorial choices violate the First Amendment.

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With Thursday’s decision, the Supreme Court has now heard petitions from two opposing split-circuit opinions concerning state laws requiring platforms to carry specific speech. Both Florida’s attorney general and the tech groups asked the Supreme Court to hear an appeal from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that a similar Florida legislation preventing tech companies from politicians and candidates violated the First Amendment.

The circuit courts are currently preventing the implementation of both the Texas and Florida statutes. A request for comment from the Texas Attorney General was not immediately returned. According to the tech groups, if both laws were in effect, social media sites would be forced to carry information that violates their own policies on hate speech and extremism.

“We are sure that the United States Supreme Court will protect the First Amendment by ruling that the government cannot force private firms to distribute hateful content or overrule their private editorial decisions,” NetChoice counsel Chris Marchese said in a statement.

The Supreme Court has already issued a ruling on the 5th Circuit’s decision to sustain Texas’ legislation. Based on an earlier 5th Circuit judgment from the spring, the Supreme Court halted the Texas law from taking effect in a 5-4 decision in May, in response to an emergency request by NetChoice and CCIA. The high court, on the other hand, did not rule on the underlying merits of the 5th Circuit case – but it may if this latest petition is granted.

The 5th Circuit’s 2-1 decision in September bolstered conservatives’ accusations that tech platforms are censoring their viewpoints, which the platforms deny. Not only are Texas and Florida pushing laws to rein in the content filtering policies of tech companies.

Last year, more than 34 states passed legislation, with Republican legislatures primarily passing bills requiring more speech to remain online and Democratic legislatures such as California and New York adopting bills instructing platforms to delete some extreme content.

The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear two other tech-related issues this term — Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh — that might affect how the platforms operate in the future under the liability shield known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This rule shields websites from liability for most third-party content provided by users, while simultaneously allowing them to modify and filter such information.

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