At issue is a state law known as HB 20. Signed by Governor Greg Abbott (R-Texas), the law regulates social media platforms with more than 50 million monthly users, and bars them from censoring or limiting speech based on viewpoint expression. Friday's ruling from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in NetChoice v. Paxton is viewed as a victory for Republican state legislators in Texas who believe social media platforms are limiting free speech.
David Dunmoyer is campaign manager for the Better Tech Tomorrow campaign at Texas Public Policy Foundation, which supported HB 20 as it progressed through the Texas legislature and court proceedings.
"Ultimately the leadership [in Austin] recognized a problem that reasonable folks can see on both sides," says Dunmoyer. "[Specifically] that conservatives are being discriminated against by their viewpoints on social media platforms. We're seeing a ratio of 21-to-1 compared to liberals for conservative discrimination on social media platforms – and … this bill recognizes that's an issue."
But not everyone sees last week's decision by the Fifth Circuit as a good thing. Writing for Lawfare, Alan Rozenshtein – an associate professor of law at the University of Minnesota – describes it as "largely a crude hack-and-slash job that misstates the facts" and "an extreme example of First Amendment absolutism" that deserves to be overruled.
The Supreme Court could be the next place arguments over these issues are heard. The Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down a similar law in Florida – and so-called "split circuit" decisions end up at the high court for a final ruling. NetChoice's general counsel told NPR that should that happen, he's "convinced" the Supreme Court will uphold the First Amendment rights of websites, platforms, and apps.