AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- The 11th Circuit Court ruled Monday that Florida's controversial social media censorship law is unconstitutional. Experts say the decision could impact the fate of H.B. 20, a similar law in Texas, which awaits its future with the U.S. Supreme Court.
H.B. 20 makes it illegal for any social media platform with more than 50 million active users per month (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) to "block, ban, delete, remove, de-platform, demonetize, de-boost, regulate, restrict, inhibit the publication or reproduction of, deny equal access or visibility to expression." It also allows Texans to take legal action against these companies for filtering any content that expresses their point of view.
"Freedom of speech is under attack in Texas. It prevents social media companies from banning users based upon the user's political viewpoints," said Gov. Greg Abbott in a video posted on his Facebook page back on Sept. 9.
Supporters say this bill came as a result of political discrimination by big social media platforms against conservative users, such as the removal of former President Donald Trump's account from Twitter.
"I can see how very easily conservatives would feel as though they were being really targeted. Yet, the fact of the matter 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 hold on Texas and national politics. Even though they might feel that they are being targeted, that does not seem to bear itself out generally. There's an argument to be made that maybe the isolation is not having an adverse impact on the conservative perspective as they would have us believe."
Sponsors of the bill have used the notion of "preserving free speech" as the basis for their argument.
"Certainly we have free speech rights, but that is not an absolute unlimited right," said Dr. Carder. "The limitations and restrictions upon speech have the intent to protect certain groups from ideologies, movements, and perspectives that would put them at risk."
Gov. Abbott signed the controversial law back on Sept. 9th. It was immediately challenged by NetChoice and CCIA (Computer and Communications Industry Association) -- trade organizations which represent a number of tech companies. A U.S. district judge issued a preliminary injunction in December. It was then lifted by an appeals court on May 11, prompting industry groups to take the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP have written "friend of the court" briefs, voicing their opposition. They say H.B. 20 would allow dangerous content, such as hate speech, foreign propaganda, and misinformation to flourish online.
"You don't end up with individuals like the mass shooter in Buffalo, New York without this type of hate speech," said Dr. James Dixon, president of the NAACP Houston branch. "How do you produce an 18-year-old with that magnitude and measure of hate? That's where you start to understand how powerful these words and these messages are. The manifestation of what's happening in our nation is too egregious for us to ignore."
In the case of the Buffalo mass shooting earlier this month, critics say under this legislation, Twitch wouldn't have been able to take down the 18-year-old white gunman's live stream of the horrendous killings. It took the social media site two minutes before the video was taken down.
"The long-term ramifications are ... we continue to raise new generations of racists who are indoctrinated," said Dr. Dixon. "Remember this, white supremacy is a religion. We get people who become religiously zealous to those dark and deadly values and feel loyal by carrying out the assignments of destruction, attack, and violence. That's what produces this."
The 11th Circuit Court ruled Monday that social media platforms are considered private entities, which means their actions are protected under the First Amendment and they can choose to filter content however they see fit. Dr. Carder says this decision on Florida's law could play a role in how the Supreme Court decides on the fate of H.B. 20.
"As a matter of fact, we're told Florida lawyers have already submitted the records of that court decision to the Supreme Court for its consideration," he said.
Texas has until Wednesday to respond to the request for an injunction. What SCOTUS decides from there is anybody's guess.
"The challenge there is with the most recent decision in regards to abortion that was written by Justice (Samuel) Alito and was leaked, it indicates that he really tends toward an extremely conservative position," said Dr. Carder. "Will he make a different decision? Will the court view things differently? That remains to be seen."
ABC13 reached out to Gov. Abbott's office, the Texas Attorney General's Office, and all of the bill's sponsors, but did not hear back.
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