Why freedom of expression on the internet is (again) in the hands of the US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United States is hearing oral arguments on Monday in two cases related to freedom of expression, which could result in a significant loss of control by social networks over the content published on their platforms.

decision These powerful media can change how the public receives information.

The case stems from two lawsuits filed to overturn two Florida and Texas laws enacted in 2021 that relate to social networks’ ability to regulate the publication of political content on their platforms.

The lawsuit was sparked by the suspension of former President Donald Trump’s accounts on major platforms after the January 6, 2021 uprising.

After Facebook, Twitter (today when the Texas law, enacted shortly thereafter, Prohibits platforms from moderating political content.

The plaintiffs, NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, two tech industry lobbying groups, argue that the First Amendment gives networks the same right to decide about their own platforms as newspapers. It determines what gets published. its pages.

What’s at stake with the potential repeal of the Florida and Texas laws?

Cases known as Moody vs. Net Choice And NetChoice vs PaxtonIt could give the government the power to influence the content published on social networks, forcing them to publish content they would not normally publish.

Critics of the laws fear that, if they prevail, the laws will greenlight extremist content by terrorist, neo-Nazi and supremacist groups, among others, and also become powerful tools in recruitment and indoctrination efforts.

Advocates, on the other hand, say the laws in Florida and Texas help prevent social networks from restricting, removing and restricting discussions of political issues on their broader platforms.

Some legal experts believe the companies could create versions of their ‘walls’ specific to Florida and Texas if the Supreme Court rules in favor of those states and other jurisdictions that adopt similar laws.

What do Florida and Texas laws say?

Florida law establishes penalties against networks that permanently exclude a candidate for state elective office from their platforms, prohibits them from removing content from “journalistic companies” and requires them to disclose applicable rules for moderation. Content that appears on them. platform

For its part, Texas law prohibits social networks from removing content based on a user’s preferred viewpoint or what is expressed in the publication itself, and gives both members of the public and the state attorney general the right to file lawsuits against the platform. For violation of that principle.

Conservative defenders of both laws say they protect conservatives from the liberal trends they say currently dominate social media.

According to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, “Like the telegraph companies of the past, today’s social media giants use their control to direct and often suppress public discourse.”

What are the current rights of social networks?

In 1997, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional laws regulating obscene speech online, giving social networks the right to self-regulate, setting their own rules about what can be posted on them.

Reaffirming a federal court decision for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania that described networks as “the most participatory form of collective discourse ever developed,” Reno v. The Supreme Court’s ACLU took it out of the government’s hands to regulate content on other media, such as when it applied decency standards to radio and television.

In addition to the above, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 removed the responsibility of social networks for most of the content published on their platforms, so in theory they are not legally affected by publications and problematic users.

However, faced with an avalanche of bad actors polluting their platforms with fake news, hate speech and harassment, social networks created rules that prohibit fake news about issues related to elections or pandemics, among other things.

What do social networks allege?

Social networks say the First Amendment gives companies the right to control content as they see fit, because it protects their ability to make editorial decisions about the content of their products.

The plaintiffs also allege that the social network’s decision on what content it publishes and what it excludes “is intended to transmit a message about the type of community that the platform hopes to foster” in the lawsuit. Against Texas law.

The Supreme Court is likely to announce its decision in June.

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