The administration of President Joe Biden petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal involving Republican-backed measures in Texas and Florida that would interfere with social media firms’ attempts to censor problematic information on their platforms.
The states refer to the activities as unlawful censorship.
The judges are debating whether to take on two instances in which companies in the technology sector, including NetChoice, whose members include Meta Platforms Inc. Alphabet Inc., and X, formerly known as Twitter, are challenging state regulations.
While advocates of content moderation have argued for the necessity to avoid misinformation and advocacy for extremist causes, supporters of the regulations, passed in 2021, have contended that social media platforms have repressed conservative viewpoints.
While the industry groups are appealing a different lower court ruling maintaining the Texas legislation, which the Supreme Court had earlier in the case stopped, Florida is seeking to reinstate its statute after a lower court ruled mostly against it.
The Justice Department, which was asked to weigh in on the controversy, stated on Monday that the cases merit scrutiny because the laws violate the platforms’ rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which safeguards freedom of speech.
The Justice Department stated in a written brief that social media platforms participate in First Amendment-protected activity when they choose, edit, and organize third-party speech for public exhibition.
The cases would put to the test the claim made by the business associations that the First Amendment safeguards the editorial judgment of platforms and forbids governments from compelling them to publish content against their will.
The corporations claim that without editorial control, spam, bullying, extremism, and hate speech would proliferate on their websites.
The law in Florida mandates that major platforms “host some speech that they might otherwise prefer not to host” by making censorship policies public and forbidding the exclusion of any political candidates. The state of Texas prohibits “viewpoint-based” user censorship.