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I have just seen this video on Youtube:

"Republican Texas governor Greg Abbott has signed a law that forbids social media companies from banning people from their platforms based on their location and/or their politics. "

I presume this is intended to prevent things like Twitter banning Trump from posting.

Is this law unconstitutional, on the grounds that it violates freedom of the press? As I understand it, the First Amendment means the government can't tell any publisher what political opinions they must publish, or must not publish. If that is correct, does 'the press' include social media?

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    Twitter didn't ban Trump for his politics, they banned him for inciting violence, which is in violation of their Terms & Services Sep 21 at 7:15
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft Well, there are plenty of people with different politics that advocated for violence that didn't suffer any consequences despite being reported, so it's not that clear cut. If there's a rule that's only getting applied to one group of people and not another, it's not accurate to claim just the rule is the cause; it is also which group the person belongs to.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 21 at 13:45
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    @Caleth I'm noting the argument, not arguing that any particular action was or was not warranted. The comment was a criticism of the question. My point is simply that criticism isn't as straightforward as it was stated.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 21 at 15:14
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    The first amendment only says that the government can't restrict free speech. Twitter is not the government, they can do whatever they want. Sep 21 at 15:18
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    My question is not about Twitter's actions. My question is about the government's actions telling social media what to do.
    – Pete
    Sep 21 at 15:32
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most likely

The government can't compel people to some sort of speech under the 1st amendment. Forcing a company to host people is compelled speech by the company.

It is well established that the government can't compel a newspaper to host its messages as it wants. The key case might be Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo 418 US 241 (1974). In this case, it was deemed unconstitutional that a newspaper would need to host speech of a political candidate the newspaper didn't like in the same amount it had used to disparage that candidate.

While the Miami Herald brought the newspaper into the line by the action of the newspaper, Wooley v. Maynard 430 U.S. 705 (1977) held that the state could not force any citizen to host its motto. Or for the matter, any message.

The State may not constitutionally require an individual to participate in the dissemination of an ideological message by displaying it on his private property in a manner and for the express purpose that it be observed and read by the public. Pp. 71717.

Forcing a public web page to host advertisement or speech from any government - or under the threat of the government action - is compelled speech and violates the rulings of Miami Herald, Wooley and other cases.

However, there is a little light for the government under PruneYard, Turner Broadcasting and Rumsfeld. However, all of them don't cut here: Turner Broadcasting was about a service provider for radio that did not host its own speech. PruneYard is a shopping center that doesn't host its own speech and is only useful in California as there is a California constitution issue. And Rumsfeld dealt with military recruitment, which always is special.

A similar Florida law was deemed to be very likely unconstitutional by the (federal) Northern District of Florida

Addendum

A joint lawsuit by NetChoice & CCIA was filed against Texas on 22nd September 2021 (Complaint), asking for a preliminary injunction. NetChoice puts its filings on their website.

Further reading:

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Pat W.
    Sep 23 at 15:22
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That will be determined later by the courts. You might think so, if Facebook etc. were strictly private platforms. Knight First Amdt. Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump, 928 F. 3d 226 somewhat undermines that thinking. The court disallowed Trump from exercising ordinary First Amendment control over his account. In reviewing the lower court finding,

After concluding that the defendants had created a public forum in the interactive space of the Account, the court concluded that, by blocking the Individual Plaintiffs because of their expressed political views, the government had engaged in viewpoint discrimination.

The appeals court said that

we agree that in blocking the Individual Plaintiffs the President engaged in prohibited viewpoint discrimination

The court rejected the contention that

the Account is exclusively a vehicle for his own speech to which the Individual Plaintiffs have no right of access and to which the First Amendment does not apply.

An analogous law was passed in Florida. There was a lawsuit and enforcement was stayed, which means that the court found that the arguments against the law were likely to prevail. The answer w.r.t. the Texas law hinges on the difference between the Florida vs Texas laws, and the basis for the injunction against the Florida law.

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    Yes, for the reason that Trump is no longer president. The reasoning in the ruling was not touched.
    – user6726
    Sep 20 at 17:27
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    It seems that this would be far closer to the Florida case than to Knight Institute. That result was predicated on the finding that Trump's Twitter account was a mechanism for government communication. Because there is no such claim as to the social media companies more broadly, there's not much force to the argument that they should be stripped of their First Amendment protections.
    – bdb484
    Sep 20 at 17:55
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    Knight argued that Trump created a public forum on his personal Twitter account. While the public forum existed, it was impermissible for the government (including the President) to deny access to that forum because of protected political speech. However, Knight did not rule that Twitter was in general a public forum, just Trump's account.
    – Andrew Ray
    Sep 20 at 20:19
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    Hard agree with what @AndrewRay said, and more importantly, Knight did not even decide that Twitter can't ban people from viewing Trump's account on the basis of their political opinion, it decided that Trump can't do that. That entire case hinged on the critical detail that Trump is a government official making use Twitter as a part of his job in office, and this does not apply here in general. Sep 21 at 0:51
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    @DreamConspiracy more precisely, Knight holds that the President of the United States is constrained by the reasoning we're discussing, which is why the case was dismissed when Trump ceased to be President of the United States. As you note, it's not about creating a "public forum," which Twitter is in general, but about the use of Twitter for official government purposes.
    – phoog
    Sep 21 at 9:29
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No one knows how the courts will eventually rule on this law, or on the somewhat similar Florida law now being litigated.

It is true, as the answer by Trish says, that the government cannot compel a publisher to publish things against its wishes, and that an individual cannot generally be compelled to make statements of political views. In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943) the US Supreme Court wrote:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

However Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act says that:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

Thus requiring that a person be allowed to have an account is not requiring the owner of the service to publish anything, since the owner is not the publisher of any user's content, nor does it require the owner or anyone else to make any statement, and in particular not to make any statement specified by the government.

It is constitutional, in general, for a state to pass anti-discrimination laws, or laws requiring that a business give access to particular groups of people. If a social media platform is treated as a service allowing people to publish their own views, then the state may pass laws limiting the exclusion of people from that service on particular grounds.

That does not prove that the law is constitutional, but it shifts the ground of inquiry significantly. The exact provisions of the Texas and Florida laws may be significant in the eventual decision.

I doubt that Knight Institute. will be found relevant. That case was based on the very unusual situation that a public official, and in particular the president of the United States, was using social media as a means for distributing official policy statements, and as a public forum for comments on them, and it was held that Trump could not, in those circumstances, exclude specific individuals, as that would constitute government action against those people. That situation is quite different from the ones under the Texas and Florida social media laws.

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    I have always thought that Section 230c companies enjoying special protections as "not publishers" while simultaneously censoring information based on the opinion of the company is strange. You can't have your cake and eat it too (well, anywhere other than under the law I guess ;))
    – ColleenV
    Sep 21 at 17:01
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    Sure, @Caleth, but when section 230 was first enacted, the problem it addressed was that information service providers couldn't effectively filter content while still providing service at all. The implied quid pro quo was that in exchange for providing a useful service that was understood not to be filtered, information service providers were excused from responsibility for the content of the speech they conveyed. Now that providers have taken to exercising effective editorial control over the speech they convey, the premises of section 230 have been undermined. Sep 22 at 19:38
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    @JohnBollinger I don't remember it ever being assumed that content wouldn't be filtered. Human moderation and blacklisting profanity predates that legislation
    – Caleth
    Sep 22 at 19:43
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    @John Bollinger I do not think there was any provision or understanding that online services be completely unfiltered, and to the best of my knowledge none of the major ones ever were. Rather the issue was the reverse: Prior to sec 230, doing any content moderation might impose liability for the content on the service. One purpose of sec 230 was to allow a service to do some content moderation without assuming responsibility for things that slipped by. Can you cite any source for the idea that sec 230 was based on the understanding that content was to be un-filtered? Sep 22 at 20:35
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    @JohnBollinger: Your interpretation frankly makes no sense. Under Cubby v. CompuServe and Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy Services, what you describe was already the law before section 230 had been enacted (i.e. you're excused from liability as long as you don't filter anything). Congress enacted section 230 as part of the Communications Decency Act, which was specifically intended to clean up the internet and reduce the amount of "obscene" content on it. They wanted more filtering, not less.
    – Kevin
    Sep 22 at 21:55
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The Knight ruling does not address the rights of the company owning the platform and their ability to set rules, regulations, and policies on their services. Each PERSON may have rights but they quickly diminish if he/she violates terms of service. The idea they are of a public forum will not stand up over long term scrutiny. No way. People think the idea of free speech is sacred, and it is, but free enterprise reigns supreme and nobody is going tell a private company how it should regular it's own IP. That's far more dangerous than any bogus free speech argument here, of which there is none.

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    There are already laws which regulate what company can do with its IP. I think you are correct that the Knight case will not apply, but that does not settle the issue at all. Can you site any source or case for "The idea they are of a public forum will not stand up ..." please? Sep 23 at 15:45

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