Court Ignores That Texas Social Media Censorship Law Was Blocked As Unconstitutional: Orders Meta To Reinstate Account
from the [gestures-to-lowest-common-denominator]-who-among-us dept
Remember how Texas passed a social media content moderation law which was then blocked as unconstitutional by a federal court? Apparently people in Texas remember the passing of the law, but not the fact that it was blocked. Incredibly, this includes a judge as well.
If it had been allowed to be come law, Texas’ new, batshit insane “social media censorship” law would have allowed all sorts of bizarre claims to be made in court and greatly increased the odds even the most ridiculous of complaints will result in at least a temporary win for aggrieved plaintiffs. But, because it seems that everyone in a Texas court ignored the fact that the law has been blocked, we get to see how it all would have played out otherwise.
Welcome to the litigation party, Trump acolyte and would-be gubernatorial hopeful, Chad Prather. “Chad Whom?,” I hear you legitimately asking. Well, according to this Wikipedia article, Prather is “an American conservative political commentator, comedian and internet personality.” Whew.
He’s also attempting to unseat the current Texas governor, Greg Abbott — who is pretty much the same guy Prather is, only without the “comedian and internet personality” bio. Abbott is also a Trump acolyte and another fine argument for returning Texas to Mexico. Abbott has his own problems with so-called social media “censorship.” He has gone after Google and approved unconstitutional laws attempting to undermine Section 230 immunity and fully supports similar efforts proposed by others as idiotic and short-sighted as he is.
Chad Prather apparently feels Abbott is operating too far to the left, considering the governor is angling for a Facebook data center while spending a great deal of his ill-spent time seeking to undermine the legal protections that give idiots like Governor Abbott a sizable presence on sizable social media platforms.
Prather is now suing Facebook for suspending his account, under this new law (which, I remind you, has already been deemed unconstitutional and blocked from being put into effect) something he claims in a series of conclusory statements is obviously some sort of conspiracy between Meta and Governor Abbott to derail his attempt to unseat Abbott.
Thanks to Courthouse News Service — which always posts copies of legal documents it covers — we can read the inadvertently hilarious lawsuit [PDF] Prather has filed in a Texas county court. There are ways to be taken semi-seriously. And then there is what Prather has chosen to do: a series of conclusory statements tossed into a county court in hopes of using Texas’ shitty (again, already blocked as unconstitutional) new social media law to dodge well-settled moderation issues that have generated plenty of precedent in federal courts. That the law was blocked before it went into effect apparently doesn’t seem to matter to anyone involved in this lawsuit, which is just a little bit strange.
Let’s first take a look at the claims:
On February 21, 2022, just 8 days before the Election, Defendant suspended Prather from its Facebook social media platform for at least 7 days.
Facebook’s action against Prather severely inhibits his ability to communicate with potential voters and will cause immediate and irreparable harm by damaging his chances at winning the Election. There is no available remedy at law to Plaintiff for this interference with his ability to effectively campaign through social media.
Sure, there is. There are plenty of “available remedies,” starting with the inexplicably unpopular “more speech.” The plaintiff runs his own website. He also has apparently uninterrupted access to Parler, Twitter, and Instagram. Nevertheless, Prather insists this temporary inconvenience is not only actionable, but the direct result of collusion between Facebook and the state’s current governor:
It is likely no coincidence that Facebook chose to censor Prather so close to this hotly contested Election against Gov. Abbott. While publicly speaking out against censorship on social media, Gov. Abbott has been privately negotiating a deal with Facebook to bring the company’s new data center to Texas.
Is it likely, though? Prather has added communications between the governor and Facebook about the data center to his lawsuit (as exhibits), but fails to explain how this led Facebook to target his page for suspension. It certainly isn’t collusion. Prather doesn’t even register on the public’s radar, according to recent polls. Also, Prather seems to ignore that Gov. Abbott was a vocal supporter of this (unconstitutional and blocked by the courts) law that Prather is now trying to use… to claim that he was blocked to protect Gov. Abbott. Which, by itself should raise all sorts of questions.
Nonetheless, Prather insists he’s been beset upon all sides by powerful enemies.
The implications of this letter and the timing of Facebook’s censorship of Chad Prather should shock the conscience of this Court. Prather has a massive following on Facebook and has been a vocal critic of Gov. Abbott on his social media. It appears Facebook has likely censored a highly popular grassroots candidate for governor running against Gov. Abbott for the purpose of shoring up Abbott’s chances of winning the primary in order to protect Facebook’s pending deal with Gov. Abbott.
In other words, a California-based social media platform is actively interfering in the Texas gubernatorial elections to tip the scales in favor of the sitting governor of Texas who has just signed a law targeting them, so that he can give them a sweetheart business deal using taxpayer money. Sure. Uh huh. Makes sense.
Even if we assume these statements to be true (and we certainly don’t), what’s actionable here? Normally nothing would be. And here, nothing should be because the courts already blocked this law from going into effect. But Prather is trying to use the same law passed by the governor he now claims is colluding against him to bring this lawsuit against Facebook. This stupid law allows Texas residents to bring this completely stupid cause of action. Or it would if a court hadn’t blocked it. But, again, everyone seems to be ignoring that kind of important point.
Declaratory Relief for Social Media Censorship
And these are the sort of lawsuits this law would encourage, something Governor Abbott may come to regret (if the law actually is allowed to go into effect). After all, the law allows pretty much anyone to sue a social media service over any form of moderation they experience.
CPRC § 143A.002 provides: “(a) a social media platform may not censor a user, a user’s expression, or a user’s ability to receive the expression of another person based on: (1) the viewpoint of the user or another person; (2) the viewpoint represented in the user’s expression or another person’s expression; or (3) a user’s geographic location in this state or any part of this state.”
According to Prather’s filing, he was suspended over a direct message that was presumably reported as harassing by the recipient. That’s all it takes to trigger a lawsuit under Texas’ social media law. However, clearing this extremely low bar is not the same as credibly alleging collusion between the governor and Meta, which Prather has done here.
And it appears the court may have already sided with Prather, at least temporarily even though this law never went into effect. Somehow, he has already secured a temporary restraining order [PDF] that tells Facebook to reinstate his account. The judge cites the new social media law even though the federal court already enjoined it as unconstitutional. It is unclear how this is even possible, though Prather and his lawyer, Paul Davis, who has made quite the name for himself as an insurrectionist lawyer who tried to sue to undo the entire 2020 Presidential election, are celebrating. I mean, to their credit, it is quite a feat to get an unconstitutional prior restraint ruling issued on a law that has already been declared unconstitutional and enjoined from being put into effect. So, kudos?
The garbage law has allowed a ridiculous person to force a private company to bend to his wishes — even though the law was not allowed to go into effect because of its unconstitutional nature. And Abbott’s hypocritical support of a law that undermines his belief the free market should not be fucked with has resulted in one of his political challengers having his account reinstated to be used as a megaphone to tout a lawsuit claiming the governor is in bed with Facebook. There are no winners here, just a bunch of losers who can’t handle being told to shut up by the free services they exploit.