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Federal court upholds law banning tech companies from censoring viewpoints

Ars Technica – All content
Ashley Belanger

Federal court upholds law banning tech companies from censoring viewpoints

For the past year, Texas has been fighting in court to uphold a controversial law that would ban tech companies from content moderation based on viewpoints. In May, the Supreme Court narrowly blocked the law, but this seemed to do little to settle the matter. Today, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower Texas court’s decision to block the law, ruling instead that the Texas law be upheld, The Washington Post reported.

According to the Post, because two circuit courts arrived at differing opinions, the ruling is “likely setting up a Supreme Court showdown over the future of online speech.” In the meantime, the 5th Circuit Court’s opinion could make it tempting for other states to pass similar laws.

Trump-nominated Judge Andrew Stephen Oldham joined two other conservative judges in ruling that the First Amendment doesn’t grant protections for corporations to “muzzle speech.”

John Bergmayer, the legal director of Public Knowledge (a public interest group defending online consumer rights), provided a statement to Ars suggesting that the 5th Circuit Court’s decision may not stand.

“The Fifth Circuit has ignored decades of First Amendment and Supreme Court precedent— and contrary to recent Supreme Court orders—to reach a seemingly politically motivated decision that will have disastrous effects if it is not immediately reversed,” Bergmayer said.

The Post reported that some tech industry representatives also oppose the most recent decision to uphold the law and plan to weigh options to appeal. Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, is a vocal challenger of the Texas law. He’s quoted by the Post as calling the ruling “Orwellian” because it grants government power to dictate “what businesses must say” in the name of protecting free speech.

“The Texas law compels private enterprises to distribute dangerous content ranging from foreign propaganda to terrorist incitement, and places Americans at risk,” Schruers said.

Bergmayer said the verdict could cause platforms to lose their ability to effectively stop the spread of hate speech, abuse, and misinformation. He suggests the ruling implies that newspapers could be ordered to publish propaganda or email spam filters could become illegal because it’s a tech company blocking political speech.

“Platforms need to be regulated in many respects, but rulings like this set back serious attempts to protect consumers online,” Bergmayer warned.