US federal judge blocks Texas social media censorship law

US District Judge Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas Wednesday blocked a Texas law that would prohibit large social media platforms from censoring users based on their viewpoints. This law was set to take effect Thursday. 

House Bill 20 prohibits social media platforms from censoring users’ digital expression based on viewpoints or geographic location. In September, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law. 

Two trade groups, NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, then filed suit to block the law. The groups claimed that the new law imposed “impermissible content- and viewpoint-based classifications.” Further, they alleged that the law prohibited platforms from engaging in their own expression to label or comment on expressions they were then compelled to post.

On Wednesday, Judge Pitman granted a preliminary injunction. He first found that the trade organizations had associational and organizational standing. He then determined that they had shown a likelihood of success on the merits, because they showed that the law compels private social media platforms to “disseminate third-party content and interferes with their editorial discretion over their platforms.”

Judge Pitman stated that social media platforms have editorial discretion that is protected by the First Amendment. The new law impermissibly restricted this editorial discretion. He also found that the law discriminated based on content and speaker. Further, some aspects of the law were “prohibitively vague.” Because of this, Judge Pitman blocked the law from going into effect. 

On the decision, NetChoice President and CEO Steve DelBianco stated: “[House Bill] 20 would unleash a tidal wave of offensive content and hate speech crashing onto users, creators, and advertisers. Thanks to the decision made today, social media can continue providing high-quality services to Americans while simultaneously keeping them safe from irresponsible users and offensive content.”

A Florida federal judge in July blocked similar legislation by Governor Ron DeSantis.