Understanding the wacky laws that get passed in Texas—my home state—to “rein in” Big Tech can get confusing. Is it free speech to tell a private company what its users are and are not allowed to post? Or is that censorship? One of the Texas’ most recent laws targets social media companies and bans them from moderating, or, as the state says, “censoring,” users’ posts based on their political views. I’ll explain, and I’ll ask you to remember one phrase: “Greg Abbott is a little piss baby.” It’s the key to understanding it all.
Over the weekend, the moderators over at r/PoliticalHumor, a subreddit dedicated to discussing the absurdity of U.S. politics, decided to educate members about the “bullshit” law by blatantly breaking it. To accomplish this, the subreddit declared that until further notice, all comments published to the community would have to include the phrase, “Greg Abbott [the Texas governor] is a little piss baby.” Anyone that did not abide by the condition would be banned from the subreddit.
“To be clear, the mod team is of sound mind and body, and we are explicitly censoring the viewpoint that Greg Abbott isn’t a little piss baby,” wrote moderator u/BlatantConservative in a post on Saturday. “Anyone denying the fact that Abbott is a little piss baby will be banned from the subreddit.”
In their post, u/BlatantConservative explained that the Texas law forces social media companies to host content they don’t want to host and requires moderators to not to censor any specific point of view, which is a pretty good way to explain it. More specifically, the law, passed in 2021, obligates private social media companies to keep content up even if it violates their policies. The law prohibits the platforms from labeling or commenting on the content, though it does not forbid user comments.
The CCIA and NetBlocks—industry trade associations representing platforms including YouTube parent Google, Twitter, Meta, and TikTok—sued the state to stop the law from going into effect, arguing that this would force platforms to disseminate, for example, “pro-Nazi speech, terrorist propaganda, foreign government disinformation, and medical misinformation.” The associations maintain that the Texas law violates the editorial discretion given to social media companies by the First Amendment and by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Reddit is not a part of either association, though, and did not join the suits.
Users such as u/BlatantConservative likely wouldn’t be surprised at this, we’d wager. In their post, u/BlatantConservative stated that Reddit falls into a “weird category” of the law because the company’s employees do little of the moderation work on the site, leaving it instead to subreddits’ unpaid volunteer moderators.
“We realized what a ripe situation this is, so we’re going to flagrantly break this law. Partially to raise awareness of the bullshit of it all, but mainly because we find it funny. Also, we like this Constitution thing. Seems like it has some good ideas,” u/BlatantConservative wrote.
The moderator included a link to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s website and encouraged members to file a complaint about the law.
Gizmodo reached out to Reddit for comment on Texas’ social media law and the shenanigans going on in r/PoliticalHumor but did not receive a response.
Over on r/PoliticalHumor, users delighted in the project from the subreddit’s moderators and seemed to be complying with the “Greg Abbott is a little piss baby” dictum in every comment on u/BlatantConservative’s post.
When it comes to the Texas law, on Sept. 16, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument by CCIA and NetBlocks that the law was unconstitutional and allowed it to go into effect. Yet, considering a similar social media law was not allowed to go into effect in Florida by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, it’s likely that this is not the last we’ll hear about the matter.
Update 9/28/2022, 8:15 a.m. ET: This post has been updated to clarify that only the comments, not the posts, in the subreddit must include the phrase “Greg Abbott is a little piss baby.”