HB 20 makes it illegal for any social media platform with more than 50 million monthly active users (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) to regulate, restrict, prevent the posting or reproduction de, deny equal access or visibility to expression.” It also allows Texans to take legal action against these companies for filtering any content expressing their point of view.
“Free speech is under attack in Texas. It prevents social media companies from banning users based on their political views,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a video posted to his Facebook page Sept. 9.
Supporters say the bill is the result of political discrimination by major social media platforms against conservative users, such as the removal of former President Donald Trump’s account from Twitter.
“I can see how conservatives would very easily feel like they were really being targeted. Yet the fact is, the proof is in the pudding,” said Dr. Eddy Carder, assistant professor of constitutional law and philosophy. at Prairie View. A&M University.
He went on to say, “Conservatives continue to maintain a grip on Texas and national politics. While they may feel targeted, that doesn’t seem to hold true in general. There’s an argument to be made that can -being isolated does not negatively impact the conservative perspective as they would have us believe.”
The sponsors of the bill used the notion of “preservation of freedom of expression” as the basis of their argument.
“Certainly we have the right to freedom of expression, but it is not an absolute unlimited right,” Dr Carder said. “Limitations and restrictions on speech are intended to protect certain groups from ideologies, movements and perspectives that would endanger them.”
Governor Abbott signed the controversial law on September 9. It was immediately challenged by NetChoice and CCIA (Computer and Communications Industry Association) – trade organizations that represent a number of tech companies. A U.S. District Judge issued a preliminary injunction in December. It was later lifted by an appeals court on May 11, prompting industry groups to take the case to the US Supreme Court.
Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP wrote “friends of the court” memoirs, expressing their opposition. They say HB 20 would allow dangerous content, such as hate speech, foreign propaganda and misinformation to thrive online.
“You don’t end up with individuals like the mass shooter in Buffalo, New York without this type of hate speech,” said NAACP Houston branch president Dr. James Dixon. “How do you produce an 18-year-old with that breadth and that measure of hate? That’s when you start to realize how powerful those words and messages are. The manifestation of what’s happening in our country is too blatant so we can ignore it.”
In the case of the mass shooting in Buffalo earlier this month, critics say that under this legislation, Twitch would not have been able to remove the 18-year-old white shooter’s live stream of the gruesome murders . It took the social media site two minutes before the video was taken down.
“The long-term ramifications are…we continue to breed new generations of racists who are indoctrinated,” Dr Dixon said. “Remember this, white supremacy is a religion. We get people who become religiously zealous towards these dark and deadly values and feel loyal by carrying out the missions of destruction, attack and violence. who produces this.”
The 11th Circuit Court ruled Monday that social media platforms are considered private entities, meaning their actions are protected by the First Amendment and they can choose to filter content as they see fit. Dr. Carder says this ruling on Florida law could play a role in how the Supreme Court decides the fate of HB 20.
“In fact, we are told that Florida attorneys have already submitted the records of this court ruling to the Supreme Court for review,” he said.
Texas has until Wednesday to respond to the injunction request. What SCOTUS decides from there is anyone’s guess.
“The challenge with the most recent abortion decision that was written by Judge (Samuel) Alito and leaked, it indicates that he really tends towards an extremely conservative position,” said Dr. Carder. “Will he make a different decision? Will the court see things differently? That remains to be seen.
ABC13 contacted Governor Abbott’s office, the Texas Attorney General’s office and all sponsors of the bill, but did not hear back.
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