Two gun control groups came out in favor of moderating “hate speech” on social media in a brief filed with the Supreme Court in a pending First Amendment case, alleging that it poses “a real-world threat to our democracy.”
Giffords Law Center and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence filed an amicus brief in a challenge brought by NetChoice against Texas and Florida laws intended to prevent viewpoint censorship online. The groups didn’t speak to the constitutionality of the laws but wrote to warn the justices that social media companies “have a role to play” in protecting individuals from “hate-motivated gun violence.”
“Across social media platforms, hate speech has been tolerated, fostered, and even promoted,” they wrote. “In a time of increasing political strife, online hate speech presents a real-world threat to our democracy and to the lives of every human being in America.”
The brief notes Americans report “disturbingly high levels of online harassment and hate speech targeting their race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”
The brief later argues that hate speech can “chill” free speech.
“Social media companies have resisted regulation or content moderation on the theory that such efforts would stifle the marketplace of ideas and infringe the free-speech rights of their users,” they wrote. “And yet, by fostering and promoting hate speech across their platforms, social media companies have in fact often chilled free speech and other protected First Amendment activities, both online and in the real world.”
The groups wrote that there is an “increasingly direct and troubling connection between the glorification of hate and violence on social media and hate-motivated mass shootings.” The gun control groups cite three examples of mass shootings where social media played a role: in Santa Barbara, Charleston and Buffalo.
Texas’ law, which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld in a ruling that found corporations do not “have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say,” bars platforms with over 50 million monthly U.S. users from censoring content based on viewpoint. Florida’s law restricts platforms from suspending political candidates and “journalistic enterprises.”
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found Florida’s law was likely unconstitutional. NetChoice argues both laws violate platforms’ First Amendment rights by restricting their ability to moderate content.
Oral arguments for NetChoice & CCIA v. Moody and NetChoice & CCIA v. Paxton have not yet been scheduled.
Giffords and the Brady Center did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Katelynn Richardson on December 7, 2023