April 20, 2024


The Supreme Court heard arguments over Texas and Florida’s social media laws Monday (Feb. 26). The two states passed similar laws in 2021 that ban social media companies from removing user-generated content based on “political viewpoints.” NetChoice, an industry trade group that represents companies such as Meta and TikTok, and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) sued both states over the laws, saying they force companies to host speech on their platforms against their will.

The cases have finally made their way to the Supreme Court, and arguments Monday by state solicitors general and NetChoice were chock full of far-reaching similes and metaphors. NetChoice on more than one occasion likened its argument on behalf of social media giants to past cases that have been criticized for being anti-LGBTQ. Justices all had their favorite comparisons — Sonia Sotomayor likened social media to Etsy; Amy Coney Barrett brought bookstores.

Here’s a look at the wackiest comparisons drawn by lawyers, solicitors general, and Supreme Court justices.

Wedding website designers

NetChoice’s lawyer, Paul Clement, said social media is like a custom wedding website designer (pdf). He used the example of 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a Colorado web designer for custom wedding websites could post a message on her site saying she opposed same-sex marriage under the First Amendment, even if it conflicts with Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws.

Bookstores

Associate justice Amy Coney Barrett worried that if the Texas and Florida laws were allowed to stay, then it could impact, say, how a bookstore organizes its window displays.

Her rationale: If social media isn’t allowed to restrict certain types of content under the state laws, then what if the states passed laws about how other businesses organize their content?

“Could Florida enact a law telling bookstores that they have to put everything out by alphabetical order and that they can’t organize or put some things closer to the front of the store that they think, you know, their customers will want to buy?” asked Coney Barrett.

Florida solicitor general Whitaker said social media and its algorithms are different from bookstores.

Parade organizers

NetChoice argued that social media platforms are like parade organizers, and the word “parade” was mentioned 25 times Monday. NetChoice’s Clement referenced the case Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston (GLIB). In the case, organizers of a Saint Patrick’s Day parade wouldn’t allow GLIB to participate, and the group sued. A Massachusetts state court ordered parade organizer, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, to include GLIB. The Veteran’s Council appealed the decision, and ultimately, the Supreme Court sided with them. The justices said that, because of the First Amendment, they couldn’t be forced to include a group in the parade whose messaging they disagreed with.

Etsy

Etsy is a more specific example of another company brought up a bunch of times by justices (other dissimilar companies were also brought up such as Uber and FedEx). Etsy hosts user content just like social media platforms, so couldn’t Texas and Florida laws apply to it, too?

“Etsy is a supermarket that wants to sell only vintage clothes, and so it is going to and does limit users’ content,” said associate justice Sotomayor. Would Etsy (which does sell more than vintage clothes) have to change how it operates, she asked?

Whitaker said that Florida’s law, which is broader than Texas’, would apply to Etsy, so Etsy wouldn’t be able to moderate its user-generated content like it has recently in regards to sellers of goods with Pro-Palestine slogans.



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