Reddit moderators, Yelp warn SCOTUS of real-world dangers of GOP social media laws

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Groups urging the Supreme Court to invalidate Republican-backed social media laws are looking to strike a chord with the justices by bringing forward some familiar — and potent — examples.

Next year, the justices are set to decide the constitutionality of laws in Texas and Florida that restrict social media platforms’ ability to moderate content, legislation aimed at prohibiting platforms from censoring people based on political views.

Some “friend-of-the-court” briefs filed this week opposing the laws include warnings that may hit home for the justices. Tech groups advised they would be prevented from taking down content that advocates for the justices’ executions or torments conservative Supreme Court plaintiffs’ businesses.

Moderators of two Reddit communities that are focused on legal issues and the Supreme Court provided nearly 10 pages of examples of comments they claimed they would no longer be able to censor.

“We’ve got the guillotine, you’d better run,” one comment read, referring to Chief Justice John Roberts.

Another comment referenced protests outside of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home last year surrounding the court’s landmark decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Promoting violence is the only rational response, which is why the authorities don’t want you to do it,” the user wrote.

The Reddit moderators’ brief appears aimed at influencing the justices’ thinking by making the issue of security, which has deeply affected the court in recent months, front and center. 

“This is some of the mildest content amici have ‘censored,’” the moderators’ lawyer wrote. “They’ve also had to remove much worse, including posts containing the physical addresses of the Justices, their clerks, and court staff, as well as celebrations of the death of Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg.”

Multiple justices have expressed concerns about security since last year’s extraordinary leak of the draft abortion opinion. Justice Samuel Alito said it “made us targets of assassination,” and the chief justice noted the issues last year as he said “a judicial system cannot and should not live in fear.” The court has also sought increased security funding from Congress.

Other groups opposing the social media laws similarly brought forward a different vein of familiar examples for the high court.

Yelp told the justices that upholding the laws would prevent the company from stopping the “review bombing” of conservative plaintiffs who come to the court for high-profile cases, like a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

“Yelp removed ‘reviews’ that argued over gay rights and contained no firsthand experience with the bakery, because those postings violated Yelp’s content-moderation and curation policies,” the company wrote in its brief.

Yelp also noted how it removed reviews criticizing businesses for requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

“If the Texas law precluded Yelp from applying its policies to remove ‘reviews’ expressing political viewpoints and required Yelp to give the same weight to political attacks as it does to genuine, firsthand business reviews, consumers would have to wade through irrelevant reviews to find information based on authentic experiences with the business,” Yelp wrote.

Yelp’s and the Reddit moderators’ briefs were among more than 50 filed — including one by the Biden administration — opposing the laws ahead of Thursday’s deadline.

Texas, Florida and any of their supporters are not due to submit their briefs until next month.

“The Platforms’ First Amendment theory falters at the outset because HB 20 regulates conduct, not speech: their censorship decisions constitute not a communicative act but a refusal to provide undifferentiated access to what is otherwise open to all comers,” Texas wrote in previously filed court documents.

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