On the evening of May 11, Texas Republicans unfortunately landed a major blow in their ongoing culture war when the infamously right-wing 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the recent Texas law giving the state control of social media platforms’ moderation processes to go into effect. The law, passed in September 2021, prevents large social media platforms from banning users based on their “political viewpoints” and allows affected users as well as the Texas attorney general to sue these companies in order to force compliance with these requirements.
During the statute’s initial signing, Governor Greg Abbott explained his perception of a “dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas” that supposedly violates conservatives’ First Amendment rights. This sentiment became rampant within the GOP in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s social media bans following the January 6 insurrection as well as social media platforms’ removal of disinformation surrounding the COVID-19 virus and vaccines, and the Texas law was written as a response to this growing conservative indignation.
However, the controversial law never went into effect, as the law’s implementation was blocked in December by the U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, who concluded that the law actually infringed upon the First Amendment rights of the social media companies rather than the conservatives who violated their terms of service. That is until last week when the 5th Circuit suspended Pitman’s blockage of the measure.
While progressives are no big fans of social media, they believe in their right as private entities to control what they publish without fear of censorship by the government. In contrast, Texas Republicans are actively undermining long-standing legal precedent by claiming social media to be part of the public square and thus forbidden from removing dangerous “political opinions” like racist conspiracies or vaccine misinformation.
As detailed thoroughly in Vox by judicial correspondent Ian Millihser, the law is blatantly unconstitutional according to past court rulings. Social media groups are already petitioning the Supreme Court to stay the case, and it will likely be kicked up to the SCOTUS in due time for full judicial review in what could potentially be another massive societal shift towards authoritarianism a la reversing Roe v. Wade.
Even if SCOTUS does not overturn past First Amendment protections for social media companies, Texas Republicans’ vision for an unregulated social media environment could still very become reality. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has already made legal gains in the state’s crusade against social media through the suspension of certain face filters, and the recently-arrived Austinite Elon Musk has infamously initiated a massive buyout of Twitter for the purpose of creating the exact type of anarchistic, unregulated platform that the Texas social media law attempts to bring into existence.
Whatever happens to this law though, there is no doubt Republicans’ battle for the ability to spew lies and bigotry online has only just begun.