As of this week, the subreddit r/HumorPolitics requires all posts to include the phrase “Greg Abbott is a little piss baby” or else users will be banned from the forum, by declaration by TechDirt. The moderators have made it clear that they will discriminate against any users who post views that go against the piss-baby line to protest New Texas. content moderation lawHB 20, which requires social media platforms to host speech they deem objectionable.
This law, which Raisonby Scott Shackford reported in the past, was recently confirmed by a panel of Fifth Circuit judges, “in what certainly appears to be a complete violation and abandonment of First Amendment protections for private businesses,” writing Shackford.
HB 20, which was the first signed into law by Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott in 2021, prohibits US-based platforms with more than 50 million monthly users from banning users of their beliefs. Originally drafted by Republican lawmakers alleging viewpoint discrimination against conservatives, the bill seeped into the courts. A federal judge well summarized as he blocked the law’s entry into force in December last year: “This Court is satisfied that social media platforms, or at least those covered by [House Bill] 20, organize both users and content to convey a message about the kind of community the platform seeks to foster, and as such exercise editorial discretion over content on their platform.”
Other judges have dissented – most recently, the Fifth Circuit panel of judges who obeyed the lawsaying the social media platforms challenging the bill “offer a rather bizarre inversion of the First Amendment. This amendment, of course, protects every person’s right to ‘free speech.’ that buried somewhere in a person’s enumerated right to free speech is the right of a business not numbered right to muzzle speech.” (Emphasis added.)
Now people are hilariously testing how far Texas will go to gauge companies’ ability to decide what content they host. Reddit makes a particularly interesting case study because of the unique nature of the site’s content moderation practices. The subreddit moderators Explain:
“Reddit falls into a weird category with this law. The actual employees of the Reddit company do, maybe, one percent of the moderation on the site. The rest is handled by
disgusting janniesvolunteer moderators, which Reddit has made clear over the years, are not agents of Reddit (mainly so as not to lose millions of dollars every time a mod endorses something vaguely Disney-related and violates their copyrights). ‘author). It’s unclear whether we count as users or moderators under this law, and none of us live in Texas anyway.”
Courts elsewhere have “rightly recognized that the government has no legal authority to interfere with how a private company decides to curate the content it presents to its customers, particularly when their interference is politically motivated”. Explain Spence Purnell to the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website) in 2021.
Laws that attempt to treat social media companies as “common carriers” (like utility providers or telecommunications companies) are wrong, not only from a forced speech perspective, but also because the definition of “common carrier” probably should not apply to social media providers for a multitude of reasons (Matthew Feeney of the Cato Institute touch on that more here).
If pointing out the absurdity of such laws requires somewhat juvenile (but perhaps truth-telling) Reddit stunts, so be it.