Elon Musk’s Company X Challenges California Law on Social Media Moderation Policies
X, formerly known as Twitter, has taken legal action against the state of California over a law that requires social media platforms to disclose their internal moderation policies.
In an effort to reduce hate speech, misinformation, harassment, and child sexual abuse, California passed a law in September 2022 that mandates social media platforms to make their moderation policies public. X argues that this law violates the protection of the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.
X filed the lawsuit on Friday in a Sacramento court, claiming that the true objective of the law, known as AB 587, is to “eliminate” content protected by the First Amendment that may be deemed problematic. The company argues that the topics the law forces them to address against their will are highly controversial and politically charged. X points out that partisan beliefs have imposed limits on these topics, stating that “social media platforms are frequently criticized, regardless of their actions, by individuals on both sides [Democrats and Republicans] for editorial decisions that fall into these ill-defined categories.”
The law was born in response to the January 2021 Capitol takeover by supporters of Donald Trump. Starting from January next year, companies are required to submit detailed reports to the Attorney General’s Office, disclosing the measures they take to moderate online debates. This includes information on whether surveillance is conducted by artificial intelligence and how offenses or threats are handled. Failure to submit these reports can result in fines.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, a prominent figure in the Democratic Party, celebrated the law’s approval, stating, “We will not stand idly by as social media platforms are used as weapons to spread hatred and misinformation that threatens our communities.”
This can be seen as another clash between Musk and California, a stronghold of progressive policies. Musk has been in a tense battle with the state for years, criticizing what he sees as excessive regulation. In 2021, he even relocated Tesla’s headquarters from Palo Alto to Texas. Since then, the entrepreneur has used public forums to speak out against high taxes in the region and to oppose what he calls the “woke virus” that influences many public policies in California.
Analysts and experts have warned about the shift that X has taken since Musk acquired the company for $44 billion last year. Musk had promised to turn Twitter into a public square where all opinions would be found. However, organizations like the Anti-Defamation League have since raised concerns about the return of far-right users, an increase in hate speech, and a rise in online harassment.
Earlier this month, Musk blamed the Anti-Defamation League for the decline in advertising on the social media platform. Ad sales on X have dropped by 60% in the United States, its main market, since October. Even the appointment of Linda Yaccarino, a former NBCUniversal executive personally chosen by Musk as CEO, has not been able to bring back advertisers. Musk claims that the non-governmental organization accuses them of being anti-Semitic and has threatened legal action.
This is not the first time such a situation has occurred since Twitter came under the control of one of the world’s richest men. In June, X sued a center that monitors hate speech on the internet. The Center for Countering Digital Hate had claimed that X was “saturated” with harmful content. The organization alleges that the social media platform takes no action against 99% of accounts that post hate speech and have the blue verification badge. X has now initiated another legal battle in defense of its platform.
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