Elon Musk Sues California, Alleging Free Speech Rights Violation

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has initiated a lawsuit against California, claiming that the state violated his company’s free speech rights by requiring open moderation policies.

Musk, the owner of the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, now rebranded as X, has identified himself as a staunch advocate for free speech. He has previously stated that his acquisition of Twitter was aimed at preserving it as a worldwide forum for open discourse.

In September 2022, California enacted AB 587, which mandates that social media companies disclose their content moderation policies concerning disinformation, harassment, hate speech
and extremism. This legislation is applicable solely to firms with an annual gross revenue exceeding $100 million and empowers the government to impose fines of up to $15,000 per day per violation.

In its lawsuit, X Corp contends that the law infringes upon its First Amendment right to free speech as protected by both the U.S. Constitution and the California state constitution.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges that the law’s “true intent” is to coerce social media companies into censoring content that the state deems objectionable.

X Corp asserts that the law represents “a form of compelled speech in and of itself.”

AB 587 additionally mandates that social media companies furnish a semiannual report outlining their definitions of extremism, disinformation and harassment within their terms of service. The law becomes effective in January, with the requirement for reports to be submitted to the attorney general’s office by no later than January 1, 2024.

After signing the bill into law, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said, “California will not stand by as social media is weaponized to spread hate and disinformation that threaten our communities and foundational values as a country.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta pledged to address the lawsuit in federal court.

In April, a lawsuit filed by the satire website The Babylon Bee and podcaster Tim Pool also contested the law in court.

The lawsuit claimed AB 587 was “written with the express intent to discourage expression” of constitutionally protected viewpoints and violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s vagueness doctrine, which mandates that criminal laws must explicitly and clearly outline punishable conduct.