On May 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit allowed an aggressive new Texas law regulating social media to go into effect. The law, known as HB20, seeks to restrict large social media platforms from taking down content on the basis of viewpoint—effectively restricting companies from engaging in a great deal of the content moderation that they currently perform. It also imposes a range of transparency and due process requirements on platforms with respect to their content moderation. A group of technology companies challenging the law have filed an emergency application to the Supreme Court seeking to put HB20 back on hold while they continue to litigate the law’s constitutionality under the First Amendment.
This week on Arbiters of Truth, our series on the online information ecosystem, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke with Alex Abdo, litigation director at the Knight First Amendment Institute, and Scott Wilkens, senior staff attorney at Knight. The Institute, where Evelyn is a senior research fellow, filed an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit, taking a middle ground between Texas—which argues that the First Amendment poses no bar to HB20—and the plaintiffs—who argue that the First Amendment prohibits this regulation and many other types of social media regulation besides. So what does the Texas law actually do? Where does the litigation stand—and what will the impact of the Fifth Circuit’s ruling be? And how does the Knight First Amendment Institute interpret, well, the First Amendment?