By Brian Fung, CNN
Washington (CNN) — The Supreme Court will leap into online moderation debate for the second year running after the justices on Friday agreed to decide whether states can essentially control how social media companies operate.
The decision to consider laws passed in 2021 by Texas and Florida could have nationwide repercussions for how social media – and all websites – display user-generated content.
If upheld, the laws could open the door to more state legislation requiring platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and TikTok to treat content in specific ways within certain jurisdictions – and potentially expose the companies to more content moderation lawsuits.
It could also make it harder for platforms to remove what they determine is misinformation, hate speech or other offensive material.
“These cases could completely reshape the digital public sphere. The question of what limits the First Amendment imposes on legislatures’ ability to regulate social media is immensely important – for speech, and for democracy as well,” said Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, in a statement.
“It’s difficult to think of any other recent First Amendment cases in which the stakes were so high,” Jaffer added.
The state laws at issue authorize users to sue social media platforms over allegations of political censorship. And they restrict companies from taking down or demoting certain kinds of content even when the platforms may decide it violates their terms of service.
State officials have argued that the laws are needed to protect users’ freedom of speech on online platforms, particularly for conservatives. But industry trade groups have challenged the laws as a violation of tech companies’ First Amendment rights.
Federal appeals courts have split on the matter. Last year, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Texas law, while the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the Florida law as unconstitutional.
Now, the Supreme Court intends to issue the final word.
This story has been updated with additional details.
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