Unconstitutional Texas social media bill attacks human rights

UPDATE: On December 1, a federal district court blocked the law because it is likely to violate the First Amendment. Texas Governor Abbott signed the bill into law on September 9.

Yesterday, September 2, the U.S. state of Texas’ legislature passed a bill that aims to stop social media companies from “censoring conservative views.” This bill and others like it across the United States have been drafted in direct response to platforms’ removal of misinformation, incitement to violence, and other content that platforms have deemed in violation of their community guidelines. The legislation includes vague, sweeping language prohibiting platforms from banning or blocking a person based on viewpoint or geographic location, attempting to give judges broad powers to overturn social media platforms’ decisions about their own content moderation policies. 

The bill now awaits approval from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign off even though the legislation violates the U.S. Constitution and would further harm marginalized communities. Additionally, there is no evidence of anti-conservative bias on social media platforms

“This unconstitutional legislation confuses removing harmful content, like former President Trump’s attacks on U.S. democracy and public safety, with ‘censoring conservative speech,’” said Jennifer Brody, U.S. Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “Social media companies are responsible for protecting human rights on their platforms, which includes taking down speech that discriminates or incites violence.” 

The bill would apply to companies with at least 100 million users, including Facebook and Twitter. It would mandate that companies disclose their content moderation policies, release reports on content removed, and establish an appeals process for content takedowns — transparency provisions that Access Now welcomes. 

Despite these accountability improvements, the legislation fails to recognize that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution makes it possible for companies to decide what cannot be said on their platforms, including harmful speech. Social media companies have a responsibility to protect people and uphold international human rights law by exercising their First Amendment right to moderate content, in consultation with civil society groups.