The US Supreme Court agreed to review Florida and Texas laws that would sharply restrict the ability of the largest social media platforms to police political misinformation in a case that will shape the rules online in the run-up to the 2024 election.
(Bloomberg) — The US Supreme Court agreed to review Florida and Texas laws that would sharply restrict the ability of the largest social media platforms to police political misinformation in a case that will shape the rules online in the run-up to the 2024 election.
The justices will consider whether the Republican-backed measures violate the free speech rights of social media companies by limiting their freedom to decide how material is presented and requiring detailed explanations for content-moderation decisions. The court will rule by the middle of next year.
The measures are facing challenges from two industry trade associations, NetChoice LLC and the Computer & Communications Industry Association. The groups — which represent Meta Platforms Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and X Corp., the company formerly known as Twitter Inc. — say the laws would impose onerous requirements and put platforms at risk of being overrun by spam and bullying.
The laws “pose a grave threat to how social media websites provide their services to users,” the trade associations argued in the Florida case. The Biden administration is largely backing the challenges.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott say the rules are needed to keep conservative voices from being silenced.
“If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable,” DeSantis, now a Republican presidential candidate, said when he signed his state’s bill into law in 2021.
Abbott decried “a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas” when he signed the Texas measure into law later that year.
The Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals blocked most of Florida’s law as probably violating the First Amendment. The New Orleans-based 5th Circuit upheld the Texas law but left the measure on hold to allow time for an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Texas, Florida and the trade groups all asked the Supreme Court to intervene on at least some of the issues in the two cases.
The case arrives even as social media companies pull back from their efforts to combat political falsehoods online. The shift has been especially dramatic at X, which owner Elon Musk has said has he intends to make into a bastion for free speech.
The centerpiece of the Texas law is a sweeping provision that bars large platforms from discriminating based on viewpoint. The prohibition includes a handful of exceptions, letting platforms bar content that incites violence or criminal activity or involves the sexual exploitation of children or the harassment of sexual-abuse survivors.
The Texas law also imposes a number of operational and disclosure requirements. The law sets out procedures for user complaints, requires companies to disclose their content- and data-management practices and publish a sweeping biannual “transparency report.”
The law applies to platforms with more than 50 million monthly users, a threshold that exempts conservative social media sites such as Parler and Gab.
The Florida law includes a dozen major provisions, including a requirement that platforms provide a “thorough rationale” for each content-moderation decision. The 11th Circuit called that provision “particularly onerous.”
The law also bars platforms from banning political candidates or “journalistic enterprises.” As with Texas, the Florida law applies only to the biggest social media companies.
Florida has support from former President Donald Trump. He filed a brief urging the high court to uphold provisions that require platforms to publish their standards and apply their rules “in a consistent manner.”
The Florida case is Moody v. NetChoice, 22-277. The Texas case is NetChoice v. Colmenero, 22-555.
–With assistance from Emily Birnbaum.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.