Republicans are touting a new Texas social media law as a blow against Big Tech censorship, but the measure is expected to run into trouble in the courts.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 20 on Thursday, and it is slated to take effect in November. It will make Texas the latest Republican state to go after social media platforms — such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube — for alleged anti-conservative bias and censorship.
Florida passed a similar law last month, but a federal judge blocked it from going into effect. Other Republican-led states, such as Utah and North Dakota, are also pushing for reduced censorship.
The Texas bill would stop social media giants with more than 50 million monthly users from banning content based on user viewpoints.
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It would also require social media companies to be transparent about content moderation policies, publish reports about content they remove, and create appeals processes for users who disagree with content moderation decisions.
"We will always defend the freedom of speech in Texas, which is why I am proud to sign House Bill 20 into law to protect first amendment rights in the Lone Star State," Abbott said in a statement Thursday.
"Social media websites have become our modern-day public square. They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely — but there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas. That is wrong, and we will not allow it in Texas," he added.
Conservatives have worried about their online speech being stifled after former President Donald Trump was banned from most major platforms for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
Abbott openly tying the law to concerns of conservative censorship will make it easier to defeat in court on First Amendment grounds, lawyers say.
"The First Amendment protects speech from being compelled, and the government shouldn't be in position of picking winners and losers when it comes to speech. It's not a conservative approach," said Carl Szabo, a conservative lawyer and vice president at NetChoice, a tech trade group that supported the lawsuit blocking the Florida law.
Szabo said NetChoice is also expecting to back a forthcoming lawsuit against the Texas law.
Conservative lawyers say the Texas legislation, and others like it, could backfire and result in less conservative speech and several onerous lawsuits.
"The likelihood of the law actually being enacted is next to zero because the tech platforms are highly likely to win in court thanks to the terms of condition that users agree to when signing up and first amendment protections," Szabo said.
If the law does go into effect, it will hurt small and midsize social media platforms, such as GETTR and Parler, rather than tech giants, such as Facebook and Twitter, because they will not be able to afford to defend themselves in court as bigger platforms can, according to Szabo.
"Competitors to the large social media giants are most harmed by this law along with people of Texas, that will have to tolerate horrible content if the Texas law is actually enforced," Szabo said.
As more Republican state legislatures push for laws aimed at censorship, pressure is increasing to create federal legislation to address the issue of social media content moderation by updating laws in Congress rather than a patchwork of inconsistent state laws.
However, the Texas law is not likely to be replicated in Congress any time soon.
"I don't think Republicans will view the Texas law as a national model to follow at all," Szabo said, highlighting the law will meet the same fate as the Florida law that has become tied up in the courts.
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"Republican lawmakers need to ask themselves if they want to follow in the failed footsteps of Texas and Florida or recognize the government simply can't violate the First Amendment by controlling and compelling speech," he added.
Original Location: New Texas social media anti-censorship bill likely to face legal challenges
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