The Supreme Court gave the tech industry a victory last week, but a victory so narrow it almost looked like a loss — and raised alarming questions about the future of state free speech protections. -United.
A 5-4 ruling temporarily blocked a Texas law that prohibits major social media services from deleting posts based on the opinions they express. The result is the correct one, but the narrow majority of the court and the ongoing litigation on the issue suggests that the fight is not over. The legislation in question now awaits a decision on the merits from the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. Given these ongoing proceedings and the fact that an 11th Circuit panel recently struck down a similar law passed in Florida, it seems likely that questions about government authority over what tech platforms can do with the content of their sites will soon come back to the Supreme Court.
These cases appear to present an ideal opportunity for the court to present a strong First Amendment defense, which should ensure social media companies are free from sweeping government mandates over how they regulate the content they host on their private platforms. . But, surprisingly, only five justices signaled their willingness to uphold this principle in their preliminary review of the Texas law, and they did not explain their votes. Instead, dissidents did all the talking, and it wasn’t encouraging. Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined in dissent by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch, dismissed the extent to which sacrosanct First Amendment protections apply to large social media companies. The influence of a few companies in the public square might require a response. Yet infringing on these companies’ right to free speech is not a response that the Constitution authorizes.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (right) dispute – that social media sites should be classified as common carriers and therefore obliged to host all legal material – is perplexing, given the Conservatives’ opposition to the same concept when it comes to issues such as neutrality from the net. He and his allies apparently decided that the tech companies they accused of liberal bias didn’t deserve the same prerogatives as other commercial players. But forcing Facebook, Twitter and others to spread hate, harassment, foreign state propaganda and even white supremacy manifestos is as contrary to this nation’s founding values as forcing a large store surface to either celebrate Pride Month or despise it.
There is room for responsible regulation of Internet services. In fact, there is even a need for it. The tech companies in their petition to the Supreme Court asked the justices to go too far in their favor — even ruling out reasonable transparency or appeals process requirements as they regulate speech on their sites. But Texas’ effort to dictate to corporations what they should and shouldn’t allow people to say doesn’t protect free speech. It jeopardizes freedom of expression.