NBC News reports that a preliminary injunction halting the law was granted by US District Judge Robert Pitman. The injunction was requested by a pair of trade associations whose members operate major social media platforms that would be subject to the law.
The judge wrote that “social media platforms have a First Amendment right to moderate content disseminated on their platforms,” noting that they are privately owned companies, not public forums or “common carriers.”
According to the judge, the law would only apply to the largest social media platforms, specifically those with 50 million or more monthly users in the US. That means sites like Parler – popular with conservatives – or sports and news websites would be exempt.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the measure into law in September, allowing users to sue social media companies and obtain legal fees if they believe they were unjustly censored for their views.
He made it clear in a Twitter post that the law was intended to specifically protect conservative social media users, who have been banned for sharing vaccine misinformation, hate speech and violent threats on those platforms.
“Silencing conservative views is un-American, it’s un-Texan and it’s about to be illegal in Texas,” he said.
The social media companies targeted by the law sued the state shortly after the bill was signed into law on the grounds that it would violate their First Amendment rights, as well as the commerce and equal protection clause found in the US Constitution.
Mr Pittman agreed that the laws terms were “prohibitively vague,” and justified his ruling by citing precedent set by another judge who blocked a similar law in Florida.
Claims by conservatives that they are unfairly targeted by social media companies are largely unfounded. A report released in February from New York University found that if anything, social media sites are complicit in amplifying their ideas.
“Republicans, or more broadly conservatives, have been spreading a form of disinformation on how they’re treated on social media. They complain they’re censored and suppressed but, not only is there not evidence to support that, what evidence exists actually cuts in the other direction,” Paul Barrett, the deputy director of the NYU Stern Centre for Business and Human Rights, told USA Today.
Mr Barrett said that despite continual complaints among conservatives that they are being unfairly censored – especially in the wake of the Capitol riot – there is no evidence to support their claims.
“There is a broad campaign going on from the right to argue that they’re being silenced or cast aside, and that spirit is what is helping to feed the extremism that we are seeing in our country right now,” he said. “We can’t just allow that to be a debating point. It’s not legitimate. It’s not supported by the facts.”