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Justices appear divided in high court case on social media free speech

Justices seemed concern during oral argument about a ruling being applied to other sites such as Uber, Venmo

Published: February 26, 2024 3:14pm

Updated: February 26, 2024 3:18pm

Supreme Court justices on Mondy appear heavily divided over two state laws in Texas and Florida on Monday, which would prohibit social media platforms from censoring Republican rhetoric.

The come down to whether tech and social media companies have the power under the First Amendment to remove posts and rhetoric such as hate speech and misinformation. Conservatives are concerned that the law would censor right-leaning speech.

“The First Amendment restricts what the government can do,” Chief Justice John Roberts said. “What the government’s doing here is saying ‘you must do this, you must carry these people – you’ve got to explain if you don’t. That’s not the First Amendment.”

The uncertainty makes it unclear whether a finite ruling would be issued immediately, or whether the court will send the cases back down to a lower court for fine-tuning on the possible wider-reaches of the laws. 

The justices are concerned the ruling would be applied to other sites like Uber and Venmo.

“When you’re running Venmo you’re not engaged in speech activities, and so when a state says to you ‘you know what, you have to serve everybody irrespective of whether you like their political opinions or not’ then it seems you have a much less good argument,” Justice Elena Kagan said.

But the case has even divided conservative justices on the court. Justice Brett Kavanugh appeared to show support for the tech companies, while Justice Samuel Alito seemed more inclined to support the states. Kavanaugh has claimed that the First Amendment refers to actions from the government, and not private entities such as tech companies.

The tech industry argues that it should be treated like newspapers and the press, in that the individual companies should be allowed to decide what to publish, and transmit to the world. 

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