X has filed a lawsuit to stop enforcement of California’s new state-level content moderation law, Assembly Bill 587. It alleges that the measure could have a chilling effect on rights outlined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, especially free speech laws.
Supporters of the bill call it a “transparency measure.” It also requires online companies to publish a twice-annual report that includes details on their moderation of specific content categories that include hate speech or racism, extremism or radicalization, disinformation or misinformation, harassment, and foreign political interference.
When signing the bill, Newsom said, “California will not stand by as social media is weaponized to spread hate and disinformation that threaten our communities and foundational values as a country.”
However, the lawsuit alleges, statements from supporters indicate they mean to put a dampener on free speech rights by forcing websites like X (formerly Twitter) to remove speech that the state dislikes.
It cites a California assembly report that says, “If social media companies are forced to disclose what they do in this regard [apparently, moderating content], it may pressure them to become better corporate citizens by doing more to eliminate hate speech and disinformation.”
The lawsuit further argues that the bill would force corporations like X, a social media platform, to do what U.S. State governments cannot, according to the Constitution: “The true intent of the bill is to pressure social media platforms to ‘eliminate’ certain constitutionally-protected content viewed by the State as problematic.”
Similar lawsuits against measures in Florida and Texas are currently winding their way through the court system. These measures take the opposite approach of forbidding online platforms to censor speech based on political slant, especially right-wing content that often gets flagged as hate speech or misinformation. If the court system allows all three measures to stand, platforms like X that rely on user-generated content may have to pick and choose which States to even operate in.
Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon says the satire site filed its own lawsuit to block Assembly Bill’s 587 earlier this year. However, the case was dismissed. He expressed confidence that X’s lawsuit would be less easy for California to have dismissed — likely because X might be seen as a joke in some quarters since Elon Musk took ownership, but its purpose isn’t necessarily satire.
Others questioned why California seemed to be singling out social media platforms and not other services that publish content online, like many news stations like MSM.
One possible explanation is that Elon Musk has a reputation for pushing back against U.S. state- and federal-level governments and regulatory agencies. He famously got into a serious disagreement with California when it shut down Tesla’s Fremont Gigafactory as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The State of California has since declared the factory an essential business, but not before Elon Musk moved Tesla’s headquarters out of the state and sold his Californian homes.
He has also reacted to President Biden’s apparent snubbing of Tesla. Elizabeth Warren also seems to dislike Musk enough to run Facebook ads criticizing him even though Musk is not running for public office, let alone against Warren.
To Musk’s credit, though, he pushed back against the governor of Texas when the governor tried draw him into discussions of some of Texas’ controversial social policies.
X’s lawsuit challenging Assembly Bill 587 will likely wind its way through the courts while some may scratch their heads regarding why California chose to target social media platforms recently. It may be a pure coincidence that Elon Musk is unpopular among many Democrats — possibly including state officials and politicians in California who remember that he pushed back against the State of California’s response to COVID-19.