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Supreme Court temporarily blocks Texas social media law

Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Keenan joins the Live show to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision to temporarily block Texas’s HB20 law.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: All right. Last thing on our list here-- the Supreme Court has blocked a Texas state law that would allow people to sue social media sites if they were banned based on the content of their speech. Tech industry trade groups say the law would allow for hate speech and misinformation to overwhelm the platforms. Yahoo Finance legal correspondent Alexis Keenan has more on this. Alexis.

ALEXIS KEENAN: Hi, guys. Yes. So this is a state law in Texas that the Supreme Court is now on an emergency basis saying that it's going to be put on pause, meaning Texas cannot enforce this law right now. And the reason that the Supreme Court got involved here is this emergency application from a tech association, an industry lobbyist that also happens to have represented Yahoo, as well, in the past. And what the applicant here said was that this law that Texas has is unconstitutional.

What it did is it restricts viewpoints from being taken down off of social media platforms, so the Facebooks, the YouTubes, the Twitters. It would say they cannot go in and moderate or remove that content. So for now, the status quo will remain. So what is the major takeaway here, though, is that it really seems like there's some rumblings now that this issue of content moderation across big social media could actually maybe get the attention of the Supreme Court to be heard on the merits.

We're not at that stage quite yet. If you take a look at the trajectory of this law, it first was challenged at the district court level, and the district court said, no, this law needs to be put on hold, it cannot be enforced. And by the way, the enforcement was on a civil level. This was not a-- none of these social companies would be facing any criminal liability. It's civil liability. So the fact that the Supreme Court is getting involved here is definitely extraordinary. And this is what this kind of emergency relief is designed for.

It started at the district court level. It then went to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That court said, no, this law can go ahead and it can go into force and see what transpires from there. Supreme Court gets involved, puts it back on hold. So now it goes back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether it is or is not constitutional. Now, while this decision by the Supreme Court-- it's a 5-4 decision, right, so it's a close one. But you have some strange bedfellows here.

You have Justice Kagan saying that she would also not have granted this type of relief, but we don't really get to see her reasoning, but it clearly is for some different reason than the majority-- the majority of the dissent, I should say. So what we do get to see is the dissent, and that is by Justice Samuel Alito. And here's what he says-- and this is why it's indicative that this issue is coming to a head. He wrote, "It is not at all obvious how our existing precedents, which predate the age of the internet, should apply to large social media companies."

He goes on to say that he has not formed a definitive view on the legal question at issue. So to me, that is the big takeaway here, that this issue is finally getting some attention. And I wouldn't be surprised if we do see it end up back in the Supreme Court on the merits.

BRAD SMITH: For those who aren't as well-versed in the legal jurisprudence of this all and how the proceedings are even going to move forward from here, at the end of the day, for the end user, what would the changes that they could see on a platform like this, or any social media platform, be? Should this go through, or, on the other side, if this continues to be blocked and ultimately kind of vetoed from the Supreme Court side?

ALEXIS KEENAN: OK. So we have this Texas law, and there's another one that's being challenged in Florida by the same plaintiffs basically. What it does is, for the end user, if you had a post, let's say, and it expressed a viewpoint-- now, this law is supposedly limited to Texas, but we all know how difficult it would be to regulate across state lines, across international lines, these social media companies, if they had to comply with these type of laws that say you have to let viewpoints be expressed or you have to let a politician's post be expressed. There are certain delineations of users in the Florida case who are protected, where their posts have to go up and the social media companies would theoretically not be able to put their hands on them and meddle with them.

But for the end user, it would mean that your voice would get heard, right? You would no longer have to worry that the social media companies would come in and either tinker, like putting a warning. You know, we've all seen Elon Musk's tweets that get the big warning sign on them and the social media companies want to say, well, read this with caution, or something of that ilk. So for the end user, more broadly being able to express whatever you want to put in your post. There's got to be some gray area here, I would think. But it is going to be a real challenge for these courts, and possibly the Supreme Court, to decide where the line gets drawn.