AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) – A Texas federal judge on
Dec. 1 blocked a new state law that targets censorship by Facebook and
Judge Robert Pitman granted the preliminary injunction asked for by
two groups that challenged HB 20, which requires the social media
giants to establish guidelines for banning users that are applied
Conservative groups like The Babylon Bee say Facebook and Twitter go out of their way to silence users
when they don’t agree with them. Plaintiffs NetChoice and the Computer
& Communications Industry Association say the law is
The lawsuit follows a similar effort in Florida,
where the plaintiffs have also obtained a preliminary injunction against
a new law. Pitman said the Texas lawsuit shows a likelihood of success.
“This Court is convinced that social media platforms, or at least
those covered by HB 20, curate both users and content to convey a
message about the type of community the platform seeks to foster and, as
such, exercise editorial discretion over their platform’s content,”
“Without editorial discretion, social media platforms could not
skew their platforms ideologically, as the State accuses of them of
doing. Taking it all together, case law, HB 20’s text, and the Governor
and state legislators’ own statements all acknowledge that social media
platforms exercise some form of editorial discretion, whether or not the
State agrees with how that discretion is exercised.”
The law would compel social media companies to disseminate
“objectionable content,” Pitman ruled, and requiring them to disclose
their operations puts a burden on their editorial discretion.
“The consequences of noncompliance also chill the social media
platforms’ speech and application of their content moderation policies
and user agreements,” Pitman wrote.
“Noncompliance can subject social media platforms to serious
consequences. The Texas Attorney General may seek injunctive relief and
collect attorney’s fees and ‘reasonable investigative costs’ if
successful in obtaining injunctive relief.”
State Attorney General Ken Paxton is the defendant in the lawsuit and has a history of confrontation with Twitter.
He issued a civil investigative demand to Twitter after it banned
President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Paxton sought documents relating to what he felt were possible
violations of his state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act in regard to
what it allows to be posted.
Twitter’s response was to sue Paxton in California federal court in
an attempt to stifle his CID. Judge Maxine Chesney ruled for Paxton in
May, declaring Twitter’s suit premature. The company has appealed to the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
According to Twitter’s lawsuit, Paxton has a long history of
complaints with social media/big tech companies, including accusing them
of censoring or stifling conservative voices and opinions on the
platform and internet.
Paxton complained on Fox News about Twitter censoring false or
misleading content regarding election and voting practices in May of
last year, and called the platform "politically biased," the suit says.
In September 2020, Paxton filed a comment with the Federal
Communications Commission urging the FCC to construe a provision of
federal law after Twitter continued to censor false and misleading
tweets from former president Donald Trump, the suit says.
Twitter says that Trump's inappropriate tweets increased in
frequency after the November 2020 election, until he spoke to a crowd in
January of this year where he continued to insist the election was
stolen, and encouraged the crowd to march to the Capitol Building, to
"fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to
have a country anymore."
After Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter, Paxton tweeted that he would "fight [Twitter] with all he's got."
Elsewhere, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia
University and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Texas
filed a lawsuit in April that says Paxton violates the Constitutional
rights of Twitter users when he blocks them.
Other plaintiffs range from journalists to project managers to
students to campaign managers to attorneys, all of whom have criticized
Ken Paxton for issues including his policies and his federal fraud
indictments and were consequentially blocked from viewing his Twitter
The plaintiffs accuse Paxton of unconstitutionally
blocking people from his official Twitter account and official
statements after they criticized him or his policies. The plaintiffs
argue that the First and Fourteenth amendments protect their rights to
participate in a public forum with a government official and that
viewpoint-based restriction on the plaintiff's ability to petition the
government for redress of grievances has been imposed.