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Supreme Court to hear arguments on online content moderation

Michael Macagnone, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON – As Congress has largely stayed at a standstill over internet policy, the Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday in cases that could shake up a broad swath of the online landscape and define how lawmakers could regulate social media companies.

The two cases stem from challenges to laws in Texas and Florida that would restrict how the largest social media sites and other online platforms moderate their content and require them to explain to an account holder whenever they do remove or alter a post.

The states have argued the laws would prevent online platforms from discriminating against anyone online based on their viewpoints and ensure transparency in the content moderation process for social media platforms that carry much of public discourse nationwide.

Texas and Florida enacted the laws as part of conservative backlash to perceived “censorship” of conservative views by major social media platforms, and they included requirements that those sites have detailed explanation and appeals process when people are blocked.

Industry groups, free speech advocates and the Biden administration argued that the laws violate the First Amendment rights of social media companies, who should not be forced to host speech that they do not want to or be forced to explain their moderation decisions.

At the center of the cases is a big question that experts said could shape what Congress and states would be allowed to do to regulate social media companies: What, exactly, are the free speech rights of an online platform?

 

Clay Calvert, a senior fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said it’s possible for the justices to avoid that question, but arguments by Texas and others in the cases could make that difficult.

“I think they’re going to have to wrestle with this,” Calvert said.

The court will likely decide the two cases before the conclusion of the term at the end of June.

The cases could end up taking away tools from Congress, where concerns about how social media companies operate have simmered for years. At the center of those disputes has been Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides internet companies immunity from lawsuits for content posted by users in most cases.

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