Twitch could be sued for removing Buffalo shooter’s gruesome livestream under Texas ‘censorship’ law

The new law, called HB 20, allows residents to sue social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for allegedly censoring their content

Adam Smith
Tuesday 17 May 2022 08:22
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Twitch could be sued in Texas for removing the channel of the Buffalo mass shooter under a new censorship law.

On 14 May, a gunman with a rifle and body armour opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York in a predominantly Black neighbourhood. It is believed that the suspect had specifically targeted Black victims and, of the thirteen people in total shot, 11 were Black.

The gunman streamed the massacre – which is the deadliest mass shooting in the United States in 2022 – on the Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch. The company said that it took down the video within two minutes of the violence starting; it was then shared on other social media sites.

The tragedy, however, comes as a new law in Texas makes it illegal for any social media platform with 50 million or more US monthly users to "block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression." It is unclear exactly what this terminology means.

Twitch was estimated to have 40 million viewers in the United States at the start of 2020, a figure that has likely risen drastically as a side-effect of the coronavirus pandemic.

The new law, called HB 20, allows residents to sue social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for allegedly censoring their content, and would force them to carry legal speech no matter how upsetting its contents.

HB 20 was successfully blocked by the US Supreme Court late last year, but has been unblocked by an appeals court last Wednesday without explanation.

Its origin stems from a belief held by House Republicans that tech platforms discriminate against conservative views – something which technology companies have routinely denied and for which there is little evidence. In a strange appeals hearing before the court’s decision, one judge claimed that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media websites are “internet providers” and “are not websites”.

Some have argued the bill is unconstitutional because it amounts to government-mandated speech. “Texas HB 20 strips private online businesses of their speech rights, forbids them from making constitutionally protected editorial decisions, and forces them to publish and promote objectionable content,” said free speech trade association NetChoice counsel Chris Marchese in a press release.

“The First Amendment prohibits Texas from forcing online platforms to host and promote foreign propaganda, pornography, pro-Nazi speech, and spam.”

However, the First Amendment also protects content including vaccine disinformation, Holocaust denialism, and terrorist content. Democratic representatives put forward a carve-out so social media companies could take down such content, but the Republican house defeated each attempt.

As well as the Buffalo gunman’s video, this law would also force Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms to allow content from the Taliban, ISIS, and other international terrorist organisations.

Twitch did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent before time of publication.

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