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US Supreme Court Divided Over Florida, Texas Laws Managing Social Media Companies

U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday expressed reservations concerning Republican-backed laws in Florida and Texas that are meant to restrict the power of social media companies dealing with limiting content that the platforms deem objectionable. However, the court signaled they aren’t ready to block the laws entirely. 


During almost four hours of arguments regarding the cases, the justices expressed concerns that the laws might undermine the editorial decisions of the platforms. This would result in violations of free speech protections. But they also indicated they might permit the regulation of certain non-expressive internet services such as the creation of email or direct-messaging accounts. 


The laws were challenged by tech industry trade groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association. The members include Facebook parent Meta, Alphabet's Google, which owns YouTube, as well as TikTok and Snapchat owner Snap. The laws from either state have not taken effect yet. 


The major issue with the bills is whether state laws that regulate the content-moderation practices by large social media platforms violate the free speech rights for these companies under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. 


The laws were created due to Republican concerns about alleged bias against conservative voices on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. 


These two cases give the Supreme Court an opportunity to decide whether the First Amendment protects the editorial decisions of social media platforms and prohibits governments from forcing companies to publish or remove content. 


Without the possibility to moderate, which includes the ability to block or remove different content or users, prioritize the promotion of certain posts over others, or include additional context on posts, their websites would be more prone to being filled with spam, bullying, extremism and hate speech. 


If the laws are allowed to stand, it could lead to a patchwork of state measures that govern content moderation, which would raise the complexity and cost of compliance for platforms. 


Florida's law requires large social media companies to host content of all perspectives by prohibiting the censorship or banning of a political candidate or news company. 


The Texas law prevents social media companies that have at least 50 million monthly active users from censoring users based on their viewpoints. The proposed law also allows both users and the Texas attorney general the ability to sue as a means of enforcing the decision.. 


The Supreme Court's ruling on the case is due around the end of June, and has a six to three conservative majority. 


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