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A Supreme Court speech showdown is coming, and nobody knows what to expect

The Verge: “The US Supreme Court is poised to consider a question with seismic consequences for online speech. Over the past year, laws in Texas and Florida have set up a legal battle over whether the First Amendment protects social networks’ right to curate user-generated content or whether these sites should be treated more like phone companies, required to host nearly any speech their users post. The courts’ split reflects a deepening shift in how to interpret a basic constitutional right, filtered through a political culture war and backlash against large web platforms. For years, sites like Facebook and YouTube have broadly assumed that moderation decisions are protected by the First Amendment. But, last month, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals made a surprise ruling over Texas’ HB 20, a law that bans large apps and websites from moderating content based on “viewpoint.” The court ruled against NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and let the law go into effect, sending the groups scrambling to file an emergency Supreme Court petition. That petition was granted — temporarily blocking the law but also offering a preview of a seemingly inevitable Supreme Court battle….The central issue is whether the government can regulate how social networks sort and remove legal content. Opponents argue that curating posts and setting community standards involves private companies exercising a constitutional right to speak (or not speak, in the case of content bans). Supporters compare the sites to shopping malls or telephone networks, whose First Amendment rights are limited. But both sides so far are leaning on old cases involving non-digital spaces and tech, and the Texas law in particular repurposes legal terms outside of even relatively recent judicial context. It designates social networks as utility-like common carriers, a label that federal rules explicitly avoid applying to internet service providers — let alone websites. And it also bans “viewpoint discrimination,” a term the Supreme Court has used to describe unlawful government restrictions on speech but that Texas lawmakers have treated as synonymous with private companies moderating conservative content…”

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