The First Amendment protects us from an overambitious government that dictates what we can say and where. But last month, Texas ignored First Amendment limits in government when Gov. Greg Abbott enacted Bill 20.
Presented as a conservative anti-bias law by its supporters, the unconstitutional law is anything but conservative because it allows the government to control speech in a way prohibited by the First Amendment.
Texas is now following in Florida’s footsteps in a misguided crusade against social media, even if it is to the detriment of the Constitution and free speech. Abbott and Governor Ron DeSantis both claim to defend free speech, but both endanger free speech by trying to involve the government in online expression.
Just as we sued Florida in May to protect the First Amendment, NetChoice also sued Texas last month for HB 20. Citing the First Amendment and other constitutional violations, we firmly believe it is important to protect them. constitutional freedoms and the safety of American Internet users, consumers and small businesses. And just like in Florida, where a federal court has banned the state from enforcing its unconstitutional law, we expect the same in Texas.
Contrary to the view of tech critics, removing content from the internet is not a dastardly attempt to censor conservative voices. Content moderation is a core feature of what makes social media useful.
If a website hosts every piece of user-generated content, the internet would be saturated with horrible but lawful content – spam, pornography, hate speech, misinformation, graphic images, etc. That’s why online services strive to protect our online communities, including parents, Republicans, and Democrats, from the spread of harmful and potentially dangerous content.
If it takes effect, HB 20 will ruin much of the internet. Our favorite services should host and promote the hateful and harmful screeds of the bad actors they are removing and restricting today. Additionally, by telling social media sites that they must host all speeches, even if users’ posts violate their service’s rules, HB 20 undermines the First Amendment by using government coercion to compel speech.
Just as delis, restaurants and dive bars can kick customers out for violating their policies, digital platforms are also allowed to enforce their own rules. The First Amendment ensures that you, me, and pretty much any business we interact with can make our own decisions about what content to host and what to remove. This means states like Texas and Florida cannot force you, Me, Parler, Rumble, Facebook, or your local grocery store to post messages, images, videos – any form of content.
The sad truth is that Texas law is not intended to protect Americans or free speech online. This is the government trying to advance its own interests at the expense of businesses and consumers who have the right to make their own decisions.
Texas has worked hard to become a hub for American technology and innovation, but HB 20 is moving the state in an anti-tech direction while potentially exposing its citizens to a dangerous internet. We believe the courts will protect our First Amendment rights established by America’s founders and reject Texas’ unconstitutional law, and the internet will be all the better and safer for it.
Carl Szabo is vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, the principal plaintiff in NetChoice and CCIA v Paxton. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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