A New York law requiring social media companies to publish official policies for reporting and responding to “hateful” behavior has been blocked by a preliminary injunction after a New York district court sided with plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the law on First Amendment grounds.
“New York attempted to single out particular ideological viewpoints by requiring me and other platform operators to have policies to deal with those viewpoints,” plaintiff Eugene Volokh said in a press release Wednesday. “It’s just as unconstitutional as the government targeting ‘patriotic’ speech or anti-police speech or whatever.”
In June, New York Governor Cathy Hochul signed an amendment to existing business regulations, titled “Social Media Networks; Hateful Conduct Banned,” into law. Its purpose was to reduce online “hateful conduct” — which it defined as “the use of a social media network to incite violence, insult, or incitement against a group or class of persons on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, Gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”
The law requires that social media platforms, very broadly defined, create a system for users to report incidents of “hateful conduct.” Further, these platforms must develop and publish formal policies that show how they will “respond to and address” reports. Failure to comply with the law carries a fine of $1,000 per day.
Last December, the First Amendment nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression filed a lawsuit on behalf of two online platforms affected by the law, Rumble and Local, as well as Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor and author of the blog. Volokh conspiracy (Hosted by because) case argued that the law violated the First Amendment by forcing speech on online platforms and engaging in viewpoint discrimination by labeling “hateful” speech. The lawsuit also claims that the law is overly broad and vague.
“New York cannot justify such a sweeping regulation of protected speech [law] violates the First Amendment because it suppresses the expression of speech based on its views, unconstitutionally compels speech, and is broad,” the suit reads. “Prohibit or remove objectionable online speech by the state.”
On Tuesday, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York agreed, granting a preliminary injunction blocking the New York law.
Judge Andrew L. Carter Jr. wrote, “The First Amendment protects against state regulation of speech that may be considered ‘hateful,’ and generally precludes regulation of speech based on its content. Conduct laws both compel social media networks to address the outlines of hate speech and social media users.” chilling constitutionally protected speech, without articulating a compelling governmental interest or ensuring that the statute is narrowly tailored to that end.”
“We are pleased that the court agreed with us that the law is unconstitutional,” Volokh said because. “What stood out particularly clearly was that the law was very clearly viewpoint-based. The statute states that social media platforms, which are broad enough to include our blog hosting comments, have an obligation to post a policy regarding so-called hateful conduct… All Viewpoint-based. It’s an attempt to use coercive powers of law to pressure platforms or get platforms to restrict user speech based on their views.”
This legal victory sends a clear message to New York and any other state that wants to force online platforms to regulate speech that state governments find offensive. Even if offensive, “hateful conduct” is protected by the First Amendment, and online platforms cannot be forced to “respond and address.”
“New York’s vague and overbroad law attempts to stifle vigorous debate on the Internet,” Fire attorney Daniel Ortner said in a press release. “Today’s decision is a victory for the First Amendment that should be celebrated by everyone who wants to see the Internet continue to be a place where even difficult and controversial issues can be freely debated and discussed.”