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Federal judge blocks Texas social media law

The law, which was set to take effect Thursday, would prohibit large social media platforms from censoring users based on their viewpoints.
Image: Social media apps
Social media apps displayed on a smartphone screen May 11, 2021.Rasit Aydogan / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has blocked a law that was set to take effect Thursday in Texas that would prohibit large social media platforms from censoring users based on their viewpoints.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas granted a preliminary injunction requested by two trade associations whose members operate major social media platforms that would be affected by the law.

In his order Wednesday, he wrote that “social media platforms have a First Amendment right to moderate content disseminated on their platforms,” adding that they are privately owned platforms, not public forums or "common carriers."

Pitman noted that the law would only apply to social media platforms with at least 50 million monthly users in the United States, which would exclude platforms such as Parler, as well as many sports and news websites.

Under the law, which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed into law in September, users could sue social media platforms and obtain attorneys fees if they believed the platforms improperly censored their viewpoints.

He had voiced support for the measure on Twitter, saying, "Silencing conservative views is un-American, it’s un-Texan and it’s about to be illegal in Texas.”

The plaintiffs sued the state in mid-September, arguing that the law would violate, among other things, the First Amendment, as well as the commerce and equal protection clauses of the Constitution.

In his order, Pitman said he agreed with the plaintiffs that some of the law’s terms are “prohibitively vague.” He also pointed to a decision by another federal judge who blocked a similar law from taking effect in Florida in June. That law would fine social media companies if they banned political candidates who are running for office in the state.