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Federal judge rejects X’s claim that California’s content moderation law violates free speech

A federal judge in California has shot down Elon Musk’s attempt to invalidate a state social media law, first reported by The Verge. The state’s AB 587 requires social companies to publish their content moderation policies, something Musk’s X (formerly Twitter) claimed violated the First Amendment. US District Judge William Shubb wrote on Thursday, “It does not appear that the requirement is unjustified or unduly burdensome within the context of First Amendment law.”

X’s lawyers had argued the law was unconstitutional and would lead to censorship. AB 587 “has both the purpose and likely effect of pressuring companies such as X Corp. to remove, demonetize, or deprioritize constitutionally-protected speech,” the company wrote in its lawsuit, filed in September. The company claimed the law’s “true intent” was to “pressure social media platforms to ‘eliminate’ certain constitutionally-protected content viewed by the State as problematic.”

Judge Shubb saw things differently. “The reports required by AB 587 are purely factual,” he wrote. “The reporting requirement merely requires social media companies to identify their existing content moderation policies, if any, related to the specified categories.”

He continued, “The required disclosures are also uncontroversial. The mere fact that the reports may be ‘tied in some way to a controversial issue’ does not make the reports themselves controversial.”

Shubb concluded that California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta met the burden of demonstrating the law was “reasonably related to a substantial government interest in requiring social media companies to be transparent about their content moderation policies and practices so that consumers can make informed decisions about where they consume and disseminate news and information.”

It’s been a rocky year for X in Musk’s first year of ownership. The company changed its name, hired a new CEO, launched a snarky AI chatbot, brought back a notorious conspiracy theorist and bled money as the ad industry got cold feet about brands sitting next to content from Nazi sympathizers. Oh, and the EU has opened formal infringement proceedings against the company formerly known as Twitter.

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