NEW ORLEANS — The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case challenging a Texas law that limits the power of social media companies to moderate speech on their platforms. The brief supports the social media companies’ challenge to one aspect of the law, but urges the court to reject both Texas’s and the social media companies’ broadest arguments about how the First Amendment should apply to social media platforms.
“This case may have far-reaching implications for the free speech rights of platforms and their users, and the ability of the government to enact legislation to ensure the digital public sphere serves democracy, ” said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director. “The court should reject the ‘all or nothing’ theories put forth by the parties. The Texas law’s key provision—which prohibits social media platforms from removing or labeling user posts—is clearly unconstitutional. But some of the law’s transparency provisions should be reviewed under a more deferential First Amendment framework.”
In their respective legal filings, Texas contends that platforms’ content-moderation decisions do not implicate the First Amendment at all, and two trade groups representing the social media platforms suggest that any regulation implicating the platforms’ content moderation decisions must be regarded as unconstitutional. The Knight Institute’s brief observes that Texas’s theory would give the government sweeping authority over the digital public sphere and impede social media companies from addressing real harms online, whereas the platforms’ theory would make it nearly impossible for governments to enact even carefully drawn transparency, due process, and privacy laws.
“The Texas law is part of a wave of state legislative efforts to constrain social media companies’ power to moderate speech,” said Scott Wilkens, senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute. “Many of these proposals resemble the Texas law and raise serious First Amendment questions. These questions require more nuanced analysis than the parties in this case seem to recognize, though. Texas is wrong to suggest that the First Amendment doesn’t limit its ability to regulate the social media platforms, but the platforms are wrong to suggest that states can’t regulate them at all. ”
In November of last year, the Knight Institute filed an amicus brief in a case challenging Florida’s social media law. Read more about that case here.
Read today’s brief.
Lawyers on the case, in addition to Jaffer and Wilkens, include Alex Abdo, for the Knight Institute.
For more information, contact: Adriana Lamirande, [email protected].