Texas Two Step: Twitter sues A.G. Paxton after Paxton opens investigation into de-platforming Trump

Twitter filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in California federal court. The lawsuit asks the judge to stop Paxton from investigating the company. That’s right – Paxton is investigating Twitter so Twitter is suing to stop the investigation.

Paxton is a loyal Trump supporter. He attended the January 6 rally for Trump in Washington, After that day and its events, Twitter decided to ban Trump from its platform. Other social media platforms did the same thing. Paxton decided to open an investigation over that decision and sent Twitter a civil investigative demand. The demand asks for documents from Twitter that show the company’s internal decision-making processes for banning users. Twitter wants the judge to issue a temporary restraining order from enforcing the investigative demand.

Both sides are using the First Amendment in their arguments. Twitter claims that Paxton’s investigation is a “retaliatory” action, inappropriate use of government authority. Paxton and other Texas Republicans launched a campaign against social media companies after they and their followers received repercussions for posts that promoted what were labeled false narratives about the presidential election results and allegedly led to the riot on Capitol Hill. Twitter is one of five tech and social media firms to which Paxton issued civil investigative demands. Paxton wants to learn about procedures the companies use to regulate postings or user accounts. Paxton claims it must have been a coordinated effort among the five firms to de-platform Trump and his supporters.

“The seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President of the United States and several leading voices not only chills free speech, it wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies,” Paxton said in a Jan. 13 news release.

Here’s the thing – Twitter, as well as Facebook, and the other companies involved are private companies. The First Amendment argument doesn’t apply to its decisions on what to allow or not allow on its platforms. Twitter, in fact, can ban or silence a user. In the case of Trump, he was given a lot of leeway, even as he ramped up his claims about voter fraud and the illegitimacy of the presidential election results. As a world leader, he was allowed more leeway than ordinary users like you or I would have been given. That said, was anyone really surprised when Twitter and the others pulled the trigger and kicked him out? After the events of January 6, it was just a given that Trump would be silenced.

All of this de-platforming, by the way, has led to action from Governor Abbott, as well as Republican politicians in about two dozen states to introduce bills that would allow for civil lawsuits against platforms for what they call the “censorship” of posts.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott touted Texas legislation that seeks to crack down on social media companies’ perceived censorship of conservative voices. Senate Bill 12 would prohibit social media companies — including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from blocking, banning, demonetizing, or otherwise discriminating against a user based on their viewpoint or their location within Texas.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, has identified the bill as one of his 31 priorities for this legislative session. State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is sponsoring the measure. He filed a similar bill in 2019 that won Senate approval, but died in committee in the state House.

Twitter says it “strives for transparency” but ”the public disclosure of such documents would “compromise Twitter’s ability to effectively and efficiently moderate content on its platform.” Transparency but not too much transparency.

Critics of Paxton point to his own legal problems and label the investigation of social media platforms as a distraction. Maybe he thinks that Trump will run again in 2024 and he wants to get out in front to show his loyal support.

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