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[Discussion] Supreme Court Rules on First Amendment Protections for Social Media Moderation in NetChoice Cases

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Supreme Court's involvement in Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton

On Monday, the Supreme Court made a groundbreaking decision in the case of Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton, two distinct cases playing a significant role in the future of online speech. The decision centered on extending First Amendment rights to how social media platforms manage their feeds, in a comparison to "traditional publishers and editors." The court expressed views stating that the process of compiling and curating "others’ speech into an expressive product of its own" is eligible for First Amendment protection and that “the government cannot get its way just by asserting an interest in better balancing the marketplace of ideas."

Details on the NetChoice Cases and the Implications of the Decisions

The NetChoice cases involve similar legislature in both Florida and Texas aimed at placing restrictions on the moderation of content by large-scale social media companies. The legislation was introduced following criticisms from conservative politicians alleging bias by key tech firms against conservative views. In response to these laws, tech industry groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association filed lawsuits to prevent the laws from taking effect. The Supreme Court ruling vacated decisions from appeals courts in both states, claiming that neither court had adequately addressed "the facial First Amendment challenges" to the laws — analyzing whether social media content moderation laws in Florida and Texas would always be unconstitutional in all implementations.

The Potential Impact Of The Supreme Court's Decisions

The Supreme Court ruling has brought about significant implications for the future of online speech and its regulation. Under the new ruling, content moderation is generally protected by the First Amendment. The court also voiced criticism of the Texas legislature’s reasoning behind passing the law, stating, “The record reflects that Texas officials passed it because they thought those feeds skewed against politically conservative voices,” the majority opinion says. "But this Court has many times held, in many contexts, that it is no job for government to decide what counts as the right balance of private expression — to ‘un-bias’ what it thinks biased, rather than to leave such judgments to speakers and their audiences. That principle works for social-media platforms as it does for others.”

Yet, the court has not made concrete pronouncements on the actual case's merits, but they found it necessary to elaborate more on how the relations between the First Amendment and the laws' content-moderation provisions work, to set the lower courts on the right track of analysis.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court stated that the justices heard oral arguments in the two cases in February. Multiple justices queried counsel on the impact of the laws on tech companies that weren't considered primarily when being authored, including Uber, Etsy, among others. The court looks forward to seeing how this new ruling will help shape the future of online speech and its governing laws.

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