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In a narrow ruling on Tuesday, The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked a Republican-backed Texas law that barred social media companies from banning posts based on a person’s “viewpoint.” As the debate rages over how to combat violent, hate speech on Facebook, Twitter and other large platforms, Texas Republicans seem content with allowing it to fester online.
HB20 forbids social media companies with 50 million monthly active users or more from censoring users based on “viewpoint.” It empowers any social media user or the Texas attorney general to sue companies that violate it.
The law claims to make exceptions for content that explicitly encourages or involves sex trafficking of children or a direct threat of violence against a person or group based on their race. Yet, since it empowers any social media user or the Texas attorney general to sue companies that violate the law, it’s unclear who would determine what is or isn’t racist hate speech.
In a 5-4 vote, the conservative-majority Supreme Court temporarily blocked the law, reversing a lower court decision that upheld it, according to the Guardian.
Technology companies that challenged the law argued it would turn social media platforms into the “havens of the vilest expression imaginable”.
Tech companies take Texas law to Supreme Court
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube previously argued the law would infringe on their First Amendment rights to editorial discretion against hate speech.
While conservatives remain eager to see Elon Musk take over Twitter, presumably to reinstate banned right-wingers like disgraced, twice-impeached former president Donald Trump, advocacy organizations like the NAACP and Chamber of Progress say the law would allow the kind of hateful, racist rhetoric that led to the storming of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Anti-content moderation laws are so actively harmful that our nation’s highest court took an emergency appeal to prevent this law from taking effect,” Chamber of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich told the Guardian.
Meanwhile, liberal Justice Elena Kagan joined her ultra-conservative counterparts Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch in her disdain for the decision. While Kagan didn’t join the trio’s written dissent, she expressed that she also would’ve denied the tech companies’ request to block the law.
Alito said he “is not comfortable intervening at this point in the proceedings” because he had “not formed a definitive view on the novel legal questions that arise” from it, according to the written dissenting opinion.
“There is a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence conservative ideas and values. This is wrong and we will not allow it in Texas,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said at the bill signing last September.
Study shows hate speech on social media leads to violence in the streets
Notably, the motivations behind several of the most deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. in recent days, months and years have stemmed from White supremacist views and racist fears that White people are being replaced in society by Blacks, Jewish people and immigrants.
Some of the killers, like 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who massacred 10 Black people in Buffalo, NY, were radicalized through racist messaging on social media platforms like 4chan.
In fact, a study from HateLab at London’s Cardiff University found that an increase in hate speech on social media leads to more crime against minorities in the real world.
Using artificial intelligence, the project recorded data from Twitter and police records over an eight-month period from 2013-2014.
Studying over 290,000 “hateful” Tweets, researchers found that as online hate speech targeting race, ethnicity, or religion increased in one location, the number of racially and religiously aggravated crimes also increased in that location.
“This is the first UK study to demonstrate a consistent link between Twitter hate speech targeting race and religion and racially and religiously aggravated offenses that happen offline,” Director of HateLab Professor Matthew Williams said.