United States Supreme Court at Twilight
Supreme Court weighs if states can enforce social media censorship Credit: Getty images

The question at hand is how the First Amendment applies to social media, and whether states can regulate online speech.

Recently, the Supreme Court heard two cases regarding whether states can mandate social media platforms to follow censorship regulations, even when the platforms find certain posts offensive or objectionable. Here’s a breakdown of the situation.

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What are the cases the Supreme Court is dealing with?

Following the events of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Texas and Florida enacted laws claiming social media companies were restricting conservative voices on their platforms. These laws aimed to limit how social media companies could moderate content.

When signing the bill into law in 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated, “Freedom of speech is under attack in Texas. 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.”

Trade groups representing social media platforms have challenged these laws all the way up to the Supreme Court. While the states cannot fully enforce the laws currently, the final decision rests with the Supreme Court.

Matt Schruers, the president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represents social media companies, expressed concern about government control over content distribution, particularly in relation to free expression.

Schruers emphasized the importance of platforms having clear guidelines to prevent the spread of harmful content. Without the ability to moderate content, social media sites could become hubs for misinformation, hate speech, and other harmful activities.

Why is this case significant?

Legal experts believe this case is pivotal for the First Amendment in the current era. Chief Justice John Roberts raised concerns about state intervention in what is considered the modern public square in the digital age.

The core issue is whether the government should dictate what content social media platforms can host, or if platforms should bear that responsibility independently.

Chris Marchese, Director of the NetChoice Litigation Center, underlined the fundamental protection the First Amendment provides for free expression, indicating that states like Florida and Texas cannot compel websites to promote specific content.

On the other side, Florida argued that social media platforms are currently exercising censorship, violating the First Amendment in the process.

According to Florida Solicitor General Henry Whitaker, platforms do not have the right to apply censorship policies inconsistently and suppress specific users.

The Supreme Court faces the challenging task of classifying social media, grappling with whether these platforms should be treated as impartial carriers akin to phone companies, curated sources like newspapers, or distinctly different entities.

At its core, this ruling could shape the future of online free speech.

Which platforms fall under scrutiny?

The scope of this regulatory debate extends to major social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and others, although there is uncertainty surrounding the inclusion of platforms like Uber or Venmo.

When can we expect a decision from the Court?

The Supreme Court traditionally unveils its verdict in the summer, before the conclusion of the term. While early rulings are possible, a definitive answer may take time.

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Christianna Silva
Senior Culture Reporter

Christianna Silva is a Senior Culture Reporter at Mashable. They write about tech and digital culture, with a focus on Facebook and Instagram. Before joining Mashable, they worked as an editor at NPR and MTV News, a reporter at Teen Vogue and VICE News, and as a stablehand at a mini-horse farm. You can follow them on Twitter @christianna_j.


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