The request for the attorney general’s opinion will delay a decision on whether the Supreme Court will take up the case. At stake is the passage of federal laws in Florida and Texas that would prohibit platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube from blocking or restricting political speech, and require transparency in how such decisions are made.
All these laws were brought down by Republican lawmakers who said that the Silicon Valley companies are being banned illegally, a view that has intensified after the major social networks were suspended by Donald Trump following the attack on January 6, 2021 at the US Capitol.
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The court’s decision could have far-reaching consequences for the future of democracy and elections, as technology companies play a major role in the media and political debate. Companies are reportedly restricting their ability to control content it can lead to the spread of hate speech, lies and other violent things.
It looks like the Supreme Court will have to deal with the issue, possibly in its October term. Federal appeals courts have issued conflicting rulings: The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals struck down most of Florida’s law while the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Texas law.
Governments and tech companies have told Supreme Court justices that only the Supreme Court can rule on the law, and urged them to respond to the lawsuits.
Until the 5th Circuit’s decision, technology trade organization NetChoice told the court, “there is no judicial decision in our nation’s history that has held that the First Amendment allows the government to compel websites to publish and publish speech they do not want. If allowed to stand, the Fifth Circuit The Circuit will raise the standard First Amendment rules and threaten to change the Internet as we know it today.”
The Texas response showed that the issue is equally important. “Few of today’s communication platforms effectively manage access to the modern, digital society,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) wrote in his Supreme Court petition. They argue that they have “enough First Amendment rights to exclude . . . . . anyone who wants it for whatever reason they want without explanation. “
The cases set up a critical test of whether Silicon Valley companies are illegitimately stifling conservative ideas.
The Supreme Court has already scheduled two important technology cases for next month. González v. Google, to protest on Feb. 21, is the court’s first serious consideration of whether the law known as Section 230 protects technology companies from claims that their algorithmic reasoning can cause harm. In the case, the family of an American who was killed in Paris in an attack by Islamic State supporters said he may have been influenced by YouTube’s views that allegedly support terrorism.
The next day the jury will deliberate Twitter in Bayiwhich raises a similar question about the responsibility to monitor activities that support terrorism.
Will Oremus contributed to this report.