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Texas social media law, promoted by Gov. Abbott, blocked from taking effect until broader court hearing is set, reports attorney Omar Ochoa - Texas social media law - Titans of the Texas Legislature

FEATURED: Gov. Greg Abbott shares a high five with Romilly Young, as her parents, Tobi and Evan Young, look on. This image was taken at the Texas Capitol on Wednesday, November 10, 2021, following the swearing in by the governor of Evan Young as a Justice to the Texas Supreme Court. Young replaces former justice Eva Guzmán, who resigned in June to run for attorney general in the March 1, 2022 Republican Party primary.

Photograph Courtesy GOVERNOR ABBOTT FACEBOOK

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Texas social media law, promoted by Gov. Abbott, blocked from taking effect until broader court hearing is set, reports attorney Omar Ochoa

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

A sweeping social media state law, which Gov. Greg Abbott says would protect Texans from wrongful censorship on social media platforms, did not go into effect on Thursday, December 2, 2021 – as it was scheduled – following a ruling the previous day by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin, reports attorney Omar Ochoa.

Pitman’s ruling has been appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“The new state law – which is now on hold – was passed by the majority in the Texas Legislature, who contend that large social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, were censoring conservative viewpoints,” said Ochoa. “This state law has drawn national attention, in part, because of the perceived freedom of speech issues.”

None of the Rio Grande Valley state senators and state representatives voted for the final version of the legislation, House Bill 20, which was signed into law on Thursday, September 9, 2021 by Gov. Greg Abbott.
A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by both chambers of the legislature and action by the governor in order to become effective. A bill is the primary means used to create and change the laws of the state.

Legislation as a proposed or enacted law or group of laws.

A social media platform is a system for distributing information over the Internet to a selected group of followers. Social media platforms are used by people to publish their daily activities, comments and photos as well as re-publish information posted by others. The two major social media platforms are Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook, which was recently renamed Meta, is a website which allows users, who sign-up for free profiles, to connect with friends, work colleagues or people they don’t know online. It allows users to share pictures, music, videos, and articles, as well as their own thoughts and opinions with however many people the like.

https://www.webwise.ie/parents/explained-what-is-facebook-2/

Twitter is an American microblogging and social networking service on which users post and interact with messages known as “tweets”. Registered users can post, like, and retweet tweets, but unregistered users can only read those that are publicly available.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter

“We will always defend the freedom of speech in Texas, which is why I am proud to sign House Bill 20 into law to protect First Amendment rights in the Lone Star State,” Abbott said when he signed the measure into law on. “Social media websites have become our modern-day public square. They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely — but there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas. That is wrong, and we will not allow it in Texas.”

Abbott noted that House Bill 20 prevents social media companies with more than 50 million monthly users banning users simply based on their political viewpoints.

Soon after House Bill 20 was signed into law by the governor, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice co-filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ new law that would allow anyone from foreign extremists to fraudsters to sue social media companies if they did not allow them to post material on their platforms.

“Today’s outcome is not surprising. The First Amendment ensures that the Government can’t force a citizen or company to be associated with a viewpoint they disapprove of, and that applies with particular force when a state law would prevent companies from enforcing policies against Nazi propaganda, hate speech, and disinformation from foreign agents,” said Matt Schruers, President, Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA).

The Computer & Communications Industry Association has advocated for free speech online for more than 25 years, according to its website. This includes the First Amendment right for private companies to determine what material is appropriate for their communities.

CCIA and NetChoice challenged a similar Florida bill to block companies from taking steps to protect internet users online, and in June the judge in that case ruled the Florida legislation was unconstitutional.

HIGHLIGHTS OF HOUSE BILL 20

Highlights of House Bill 20, as passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by the governor, are provided in the bill analysis by the House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives:

House Bill 20 amends the Business & Commerce Code and Civil Practice and Remedies Code to provide protections from censorship and other interference with digital expression by regulating certain social media platforms with respect to the management and removal of user content and by prohibiting email service providers from impeding email messages based on the message’s content, with certain exceptions.

Among other provisions, House Bill 20 does the following to protect against such censorship or other interference:

• Requires a social media platform to publicly disclose accurate information regarding its content management, data management, and business practices; publish an acceptable use policy and a biannual transparency report regarding illegal activity and illegal and potentially policy – violating content and actions taken with respect to such activity or content; and provide an easily accessible complaint system for users to submit complaints, including complaints regarding illegal content or activity or a decision made by the platform to remove content posted by the user;

• Requires a social media platform that removes certain content based on a violation of its acceptable use policy to notify the user who provided the content and allow the user to appeal the platform’s decision to remove the content;

• Prohibits a social media platform from censoring a user, a user’s expression, or a user’s ability to receive the expression of another person based on the user’s or another person’s viewpoint or location in any part of Texas, regardless of the medium through which the viewpoint in question is expressed; and

• Authorizes the attorney general or a user on a social media platform to bring an action against the platform for an applicable violation of the bill’s provisions.

Also according to the House Research Organization:

Supporters of House Bill 20 say:

Laws that Congress crafted when social media companies were in their infancy have shielded them from liability for their content, but as the companies’ influence has grown, those laws have become outdated, making it important for Texas to act.

House Bill 20 would hold social media platforms to basic standards of accountability by requiring them to publicly disclose how they target content to users, promote products and services, and use algorithms to determine results on their platform.

They would have to publish an acceptable use policy concerning their content moderation policies, publish biannual reports about the content they remove, and create an appeal process for content that had been taken down.

Also according to the House Research Organization:

House Bill 20 would recognize that prominent social media sites have come to dominate public discourse in Texas and should be regulated to prevent them from unfairly discriminating against certain viewpoints and ensure they are accountable for their actions when they remove content.

House Bill 20 also would bring transparency to the companies’ content moderation policies and actions.

While House Bill 20 would prohibit censorship based on a user’s viewpoint, it would not restrict social media platforms’ ability to remove certain kinds of objectionable content, including obscene or offensively violent material otherwise protected by the First Amendment but subject to control under the Communications Decency Act.

The bill also would not penalize social media companies for blocking content that incited criminal activity or threatened violence, and would allow for removal of content in order to prevent sexual exploitation of children.

Opponents of House Bill 20 say:

House Bill 20 say it would run counter to the First Amendment by prohibiting a private business from controlling its own content based on dubious claims that social media platforms are censoring certain viewpoints.

Social media companies’ market power and hosting of private speech do not transform them into a public forum or common carrier subject to First Amendment restraints, and no law or court ruling has found social media companies to be common carriers.

By forcing social media platforms to host any and all viewpoints, the bill would compel political speech. The bill’s 50 million user threshold would be arbitrary and discriminatory and could unfairly target certain companies on the basis of perceived liberal bias. House Bill 20 could face a costly legal challenge and be found unconstitutional. Similar bills outside of Texas have already been enjoined by a federal court.

House Bill 20’s distinction between viewpoint and content is unclear.

Content moderation is at the core of the business models for social media companies, who seek to create a welcoming environment for users and advertisers. Companies generally take their responsibility seriously and try to remove harmful content in an unbiased manner while keeping their services open to a broad range of views and ideas.

The bill could create an incentive for companies to not remove content that may be objectionable but not unlawful, such as bullying, misinformation, or even hate speech, in order to avoid being accused of violating the bill.

Content moderation decisions could lead to numerous costly lawsuits for a social media company.

Requiring social media platforms to publicize their content moderation policies also could make it easier for bad actors to circumvent those policies. By subjecting social media companies to burdensome regulation and exposing them to expensive litigation, House Bill 20 could inhibit the state’s efforts to persuade technology companies to locate Texas through policies that are conducive to business and job creation and harm Texas’ reputation as a business-friendly state.

Further details of the bill analysis by the House Research Organization of House Bill 20 – a nine-page report which includes the votes taken on the bill, witnesses who testified before legislative committees for, against, or on the measure, and and a comprehensive history of the legislation and its effects – are available online at:

https://hro.house.texas.gov/pdf/ba872/hb0020.pdf#navpanes=0

GOV. ABBOTT APPOINTS EVAN YOUNG TO THE SUPREME COURT OF TEXAS TO REPLACE JUSTIC EVA GUZMÁN, WHO RESIGNED IN JUNE TO RUN FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday, November 1, 2021 announced his appointment of Evan Young of Austin, a former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to the Supreme Court of Texas.

Young will replace Justice Eva Guzmán on the bench, who resigned in June to run for attorney general in the March 1, 2022 Republican Party primary.

“Evan Young is a proven legal scholar and public servant, making him an ideal pick for the Supreme Court of Texas,” said Abbott. “Evan’s extensive background in private practice and public service will be a fantastic addition to the bench, and I am confident that he will faithfully defend the Constitution and uphold the rule of law for the people of Texas.”

Young is a partner at the firm of Baker Botts LLP.

He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and served as Counsel to the Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). During his time at the DOJ, he spent nearly a year on detail to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, where he helped lead the U.S. government’s rule of law effort.

Young is a former chair of the Texas Regional Office of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a member of the Supreme Court Advisory Committee, an elected member of the American Law Institute, and an adjunct professor at The University of Texas School of Law.

He has served as a member of the Texas Judicial Council since 2017. Young received a Bachelor of Arts from Duke University and from Oxford University, where he was a British Marshall Scholar, and a Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School.

He is married to Tobi Young and together they have one daughter, Romilly.

Composed of the chief justice and eight justices, the Supreme Court of Texas is the court of last resort for civil matters in the state.

The Supreme Court is in Austin, immediately northwest of the state Capitol.

Supreme Court justices are elected to staggered six-year terms in statewide elections.

When a vacancy arises the governor may appoint a Justice, subject to Senate confirmation, to serve the remainder of an unexpired term until the next general election.

Justices must be at least 35 years old, a citizen of Texas, licensed to practice law in Texas and must have practiced law (or have been a lawyer and a judge of a court of record together) for at least ten years (see Texas Constitution, Art. 5, Sec. 2).

By statute the Court has administrative control over the State Bar of Texas. Tex. Gov’t Code § 81.011.

The Court is also the sole authority for licensing attorneys in Texas and appoints the members of theBoard of Law Examiners, which administers the Texas bar examination. Tex. Gov’t Code §§ 82.00, 82.004.

The Court promulgates the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, theTexas Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Texas Rules of Evidenceand other rules and standards.

https://www.txcourts.gov/supreme/about-the-court/

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Heather Greenfield contributed to this article. or more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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