These Two Supreme Court Cases Could Shape the Future of Free Speech Online

Here’s how the justices are expected to rule.

The Supreme Court has heard two major cases that could transform your social media feeds. The justices are being asked to decide whether states have the power to change how Facebook, X, YouTube, and others moderate their sites — and whether those platforms could be forced to carry content they find inappropriate.

Both sides argue that what’s at stake is an issue of free speech: Big Tech claims that state laws in Florida and Texas violate the First Amendment, while the states argue that the sites’ content curation policies are censoring conservative voices. Here’s a breakdown.

On Monday, the court heard nearly four hours of debate over two state laws: A Florida provision that prevents platforms from banning a political candidate in the state from using their sites and a Texas law that forbids the sites from removing any content that expresses an individual’s viewpoint. Both states enacted the laws after Donald Trump was banished from Facebook, Instagram, X, and other sites after the Jan. 6 attack.

“Freedom of speech is under attack in Texas,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said before signing the bill. “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.”

Somewhat paradoxically, the social media companies sued and have also argued that the laws are an attack on free speech. They’re being represented in court by the trade groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA).

“There is nothing more Orwellian than the government trying to dictate what viewpoints are distributed in the name of free expression,” Matt Schruers, president of CCIA, told NPR. “And that’s what’s at issue in this case.”

Furthermore, the tech giants argue the legislation could prevent platforms from installing critical guardrails — like those protecting children online. Most social media sites have policies that scrub content like violent media and overtly sexual videos, but in recent years as it became clear how effectively the apps could be weaponized to spread disinformation and hate speech, companies like Meta have amped up their content moderation efforts.

How is the court expected to rule?

The court seems to be siding with the social media companies, the Washington Post reports.

Both liberal and conservative justices hinted that they don’t buy the states’ case that an app’s content curation violates the First Amendment, because that constitutional right was designed to prevent censorship by the government — not private companies.

Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bush appointee, put it plainly: “The First Amendment doesn’t apply to them.”

“The First Amendment restricts what the governments can do,” Roberts said.

The court will likely decide the cases by June, according to the Post. If it were to rule with the tech companies, the Florida and Texas laws would remain blocked and returned to the lower courts.

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