“Hey Trish. I saw that the Supreme Court is hearing a case about social media. Can you explain what the case is about?”
Hi there, and welcome back to Ask Trish! Happy October! I hope you’re all well and having a wonderful start to #spookyseason.
Thank you so much to this week’s question-er for the absolutely fantastic question. Indeed, late last month, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a case involving a challenge to two laws passed in Florida and Texas that concern social media platforms and what content they can and cannot take down. The news has made waves, both because 1) we very rarely see the Supreme Court take on social media and tech-related issues, and 2) because the case has the power to dramatically reshape what speech looks like online. *Cue the dramatic music
For both of those reasons (and because – even if I am a little #nerdy if I admit it – it’s a super interesting situation!), it’s absolutely worth understanding what, exactly, this case is about and what is at stake. But it can be a little tricky to try to plow through all the legal jargon…which is where I come in! This week, I’ll offer y’all a brief look at both 1) the key facts of and 2) things at issue in this case. I’ll let you decide what you think the court ought to do! (As always, please use this post as a jumping off point with which to learn more about this case, not the single source of truth.)
Sound good? Let’s get into it:
First up, what on earth is this case about? It’s helpful to think about the case almost like a story. Long, long ago, back in 2021, the states of Florida and Texas passed similar laws. These laws aimed to prevent what state lawmakers (most of them, Republicans) have argued is “censorship” of certain perspectives and viewpoints on social media platforms. In particular, these lawmakers believe that platforms like Facebook and X routinely remove posts and content that express conservative viewpoints, citing, for instance, platforms’ takedown of content relating to COVID-19 skepticism or claims of fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election. (On their end, platforms like Facebook claim that they do not censor conservative viewpoints, and indeed, research has found that claims of such bias/censorship are baseless.) In any case, lawmakers wanted to be sure that platforms could not censor online content based on individuals’ viewpoints…and as such, passed the laws in question. Simply put, these laws prohibit large social media companies from removing posts from their platforms based on the views they express. (Note that the law does make exceptions for content that involves the sexual exploitation of children, criminal activity, and certain threats of violence.)
Okay…now we know what’s at the center of this case – but what are folks arguing about? What, exactly, is the issue at hand in this case? Well, tech companies are (perhaps unsurprisingly) very displeased with the Florida law. They argue that it interferes with their ability to effectively moderate content, including harmful content on their platform. But not only that – and this is where the court case becomes relevant! – they argue that these laws are actually unconstitutional, and in particular, violate the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution. For folks who may not be familiar, the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution protects the freedom of speech. Per tech companies, the Texas and Florida laws interfere with what they see as their 1st Amendment right to choose what to publish/include on their platforms. The States of Texas and Florida disagree, of course…and thus far, both states and tech companies have battled it out in a number of lower courts. These courts have ultimately disagreed on whether the laws are unconstitutional – which is why the Supreme Court has taken it up. Next summer, it will render its final judgment! It’ll be a very interesting moment in US legal/Constitutional history.
In that vein, there will be a lot to follow about this case in the coming months, so keep your eyes peeled – I’ll also be sure to keep y’all posted via Ask Trish! Until then, I hope you found this post a valuable first look at this case.
Before we wrap up the post, it’s time for my shameless end-of-post plug: if you’ve got thoughts, questions, or concerns about the Internet, please share them here. Not only will you get what I hope is some spot-on, helpful advice, you’ll be helping our broader community, including folks wondering the same things you are (and I promise you, there are likely tons of folks with the same questions!). With your contributions, we can continue to grow this incredible resource, and help youth around the world.
Have a great week, everyone,