In the closing days of 2023, Elon Musk and X Corp lost the first round of their bid in a state court to overturn a California law that would require social media platforms to disclose their content moderation policies. The law in question came into effect in 2022 and was advertised as a way to tamp down on hate speech, disinformation, harassment, and extremism.
The suit alleged that that the law’s real purpose was to coerce social media platforms into censoring content deemed problematic by the state. While District Judge William Shubb ruled that the law does impose a substantial compliance burden, he found it does not unjustifiably infringe on First Amendment rights.
Protect The 1st believes X has a strong basis to appeal under settled precedent.
For example, in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of Supreme Court of Ohio (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court found that states can require an advertiser to disclose information without violating the advertiser's First Amendment free speech protections. But the disclosure requirements must be reasonably related to the state’s interest in preventing deception of consumers. This is not a case of selling gummies and advertising them as cures for cancer.
It is reasonable to assert that some social media companies might do themselves a favor by releasing simple, clear content moderation policies to the public. But we should never forget that these policies are confidential, proprietary information. Requiring their forced disclosure could tip the scales in favor of state-enforced censorship of social media, which at least one federal judge believes is already occurring on a mass scale. Worse, the California law violates the First Amendment by compelling speech on the part of the companies themselves.
Protect The 1st expects X to appeal with good prospects to overturn this ruling.