Lawmakers in 34 states have introduced more than 100 bills this past year in a push to regulate how social media companies handle user posts in moves that are setting up First Amendment court battles between the governments and companies like Facebook and Twitter, according to an analysis of data from the National Conference of State Legislators.
Just three of the bills have become law, including in Texas and Florida, where statutes have been approved to punish platforms that Republicans say censor conservatives, reports Politico.
The federal courts have blocked those laws from taking effect. In May, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Florida's law was largely unconstitutional. Further, the Supreme Court blocked the Texas law and an appellate court is considering a challenge from the industry against the statute.
It's not only red states, however, that are joining the fight against social media. Democrats in blue states are pushing social media companies to set up policies for reporting violent content, misinformation, and hate speech.
The efforts will force the tech companies to stage legal battles against the laws, which could hurt their business models, and the courts will face debates about how the First Amendment will work with online platforms, and whether the companies have the right to decide what content they will host.
Legal scholars such as Jeff Kosseff, a cybersecurity law professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, say there are flaws in the states' push for regulations. He told Politico that the "government cannot tell a private company what speech it can or cannot carry, provided that speech is constitutionally protected."
The industry groups say the laws may also hinder how they handle content around the world.
"You cannot have a state-by-state internet," Kosseff said. "When you step back and look at the possibility of having 50 different state laws on content moderation — some of which might differ or might conflict — that becomes a complete disaster."
The bills to ban censorship grew last year after major social media platforms blocked then-President Donald Trump after the Jan 6 attack on the Capitol, with legislators in more than two dozen states, mostly GOP-led, introduced bills against censorship or banning political candidates.
Scott Wilkens, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said the laws in Texas and Florida laws are "pretty clear violations of the platforms' First Amendment rights to speak themselves by actually deciding what they will and won't publish."
However, similar bills have been introduced by Republican-led legislatures in Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, and Michigan to prohibit social media companies from censoring religious or political speech or removing political candidates.
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