WASHINGTON D.C.—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and five organizations defending free speech today urged the Supreme Court to strike down laws in Florida and Texas that let the states dictate certain speech social media sites must carry, violating the sites’ First Amendment rights to curate content they publish—a protection that benefits users by creating speech forums accommodating their diverse interests, viewpoints, and beliefs.

The court’s decisions about the constitutionality of the Florida and Texas laws—the first laws to inject government mandates into social media content moderation—will have a profound impact on the future of free speech. At stake is whether Americans’ speech on social media must adhere to government rules or be free of government interference.

Social media content moderation is highly problematic, and users are rightly often frustrated by the process and concerned about private censorship. But retaliatory laws allowing the government to interject itself into the process, in any form, raises serious First Amendment, and broader human rights, concerns, said EFF in a brief filed with the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, Authors Alliance, Fight for The Future, and First Amendment Coalition.

“Users are far better off when publishers make editorial decisions free from government mandates,” said EFF Civil Liberties Director David Greene. “These laws would force social media sites to publish user posts that are at best, irrelevant, and, at worst, false, abusive, or harassing.

“The Supreme Court needs to send a strong message that the government can’t force online publishers to give their favored speech special treatment,” said Greene.

Social media sites should do a better job at being transparent about content moderation and self-regulate by adhering to the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation. But the Principles are not a template for government mandates.

The Texas law broadly mandates that online publishers can’t decline to publish others’ speech based on anyone’s viewpoint expressed on or off the platform, even when that speech violates the sites' rules. Content moderation practices that can be construed as viewpoint-based, which is virtually all of them, are barred by the law. Under it, sites that bar racist material, knowing their users object to it, would be forced to carry it. Sites catering to conservatives couldn’t block posts pushing liberal agendas.

The Florida law requires that social media sites grant special treatment to electoral candidates and “journalistic enterprises” and not apply their regular editorial practices to them, even if they violate the platforms' rules. The law gives preferential treatment to political candidates, preventing publishers at any point before an election from canceling their accounts or downgrading their posts or posts about them, giving them free rein to spread misinformation or post about content outside the site’s subject matter focus. Users not running for office, meanwhile, enjoy no similar privilege.

What’s more, the Florida law requires sites to disable algorithms with respect to political candidates, so their posts appear chronologically in users’ feeds, even if a user prefers a curated feed. And, in addition to dictating what speech social media sites must publish, the laws also place limits on sites' ability to amplify content, use algorithmic ranking, and add commentary to posts.

“The First Amendment generally prohibits government restrictions on speech based on content and viewpoint and protects private publisher ability to select what they want to say,” said Greene. “The Supreme Court should not grant states the power to force their preferred speech on users who would choose not to see it.”

“As a coalition that represents creators, readers, and audiences who rely on a diverse, vibrant, and free social media ecosystem for art, expression, and knowledge, the National Coalition Against Censorship hopes the Court will reaffirm that government control of media platforms is inherently at odds with an open internet, free expression, and the First Amendment,” said Lee Rowland, Executive Director of National Coalition Against Censorship.

“Woodhull is proud to lend its voice in support of online freedom and against government censorship of social media platforms,” said Ricci Joy Levy, President and CEO at Woodhull Freedom Foundation. “We understand the important freedoms that are at stake in this case and implore the Court to make the correct ruling, consistent with First Amendment jurisprudence.”

"Just as the press has the First Amendment right to exercise editorial discretion, social media platforms have the right to curate or moderate content as they choose. The government has no business telling private entities what speech they may or may not host or on what terms," said David Loy, Legal Director of the First Amendment Coalition.

For the brief: