Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton believes Elon Musk appears to want “free speech to reign on the Internet” and would welcome him should the Tesla CEO move forward with purchasing Twitter.
Musk has been locked in an ongoing legal battle with Twitter after backing out of a deal to purchase the social media platform. The judge overseeing the case paused proceedings Thursday after Musk proposed to move forward with the original agreement to purchase Twitter for $44 billion.
“He appears to be a guy that wants free speech to reign on the Internet,” Paxton told Fox News. “I welcome somebody getting into the marketplace that will just allow people to speak freely and not try to limit them based on what their political positions are or their religious positions.”
“Those are sacred rights and sacred ideas that our founders built this country on,” Paxton added.
The attorney general has been fighting his own legal battles against social media giants. A federal appeals court on Sept. 16 ruled in Paxton’s favor and lifted a block on a Texas law that prohibits social media companies from banning users’ posts based on their political leanings.
NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, whose members include Facebook, Twitter and Google, had sued Texas after the legislation was passed. The plaintiffs argued that the law was unconstitutional and that it violated their First Amendment rights to curate the content that appeared on their platforms.
But Paxton believes tech companies censoring posts is the violation.
“We’re talking about people being able to express their opinions,” he told Fox News. “If we do not stop this, we are going to lose the ability to have practically free speech in this country … which means that there’s huge advantages for people that have more liberal views than there are for those that have more conservative views.”
“So, now the Fifth Circuit said, ‘hey, wait a minute, you don’t have the ability to, or discretion to edit out comments that you don’t like or that you don’t agree with as a company,'” Paxton said.
The case centered on themes related to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The 1996 statute shields internet companies from lawsuits related to content posted to their websites by third parties.
In other words, Facebook, for instance, would be protected if a user published defamatory or libelous content.
“Originally that was set up to allow them to be sort of like a billboard or like a place you could post information,” Paxton told Fox News. “They were not considered a publisher, so they were not responsible for what people put on those sites, and therefore, they couldn’t be sued for defamation or libel.”
But now, social media companies are acting as a publisher by censoring content — particular conservative-leaning content — while still benefiting from the legal protection, Paxton said.
“If they can basically squelch free speech and viewpoints — conservative, Republican views — they can give Democrats a huge advantage across the country in all races, from local to presidential,” he told Fox News.
“They’re arguing, one, that they’re not a publisher, they can’t be sued, but then they’re acting in the role of publisher,” Paxton continued. “And so, when these states come in and try to regulate that, they argue both sides.”
Content moderation varies across social media platforms, but tech giants like Twitter and Facebook typically censor posts they deem as misinformation or hateful or that encourage violence. Paxton and other Republicans have argued that conservative users and viewpoints are disproportionately swept up in tech companies’ enforcement, even in cases that are later reversed.
“Our argument is, if you’re going to avail yourself of the protections of Section 230, and claim that you are not a publisher, then you can’t act like publisher and discriminate against viewpoints,” Paxton said. “You shouldn’t then be allowed to protect yourself from defamation or libel because other publishers can’t do that.”
But as Paxton celebrates his victory in Texas, a conflicting ruling regarding a similar law in Florida suggests the issue could head to the Supreme Court.
The Republican attorney general speculated that “these technology companies that are hiding under the name NetChoice, are going to appeal the U.S. Supreme Court and hope that the Court agrees with their position that they can have both the 230 protection — claiming that they’re not publishers — and then also claim that they are publishers when it comes to discriminating against viewpoints that they disagree with,” Paxton told Fox News.
“I hope that the Supreme Court doesn’t buy into that argument,” he said.
Ramiro Vargas contributed to the accompanying video.