On Jan. 13, five days after the company suspended Trump in light of the deadly riots at the U.S. Capitol, Paxton announced he was launching an investigation into the content moderation policies at Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Apple.
“First Amendment rights and transparency must be maintained for a free online community to operate and thrive,” he said in a statement at the time. “However, the seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President of the United States and several leading voices not only chills free speech, it wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies.”
In its filing, however, Twitter maintained that First Amendment protections guaranteed the company’s ability to decide what was permissible on its platform, as well as what to remove or restrict. Cooperating with the state’s request for “volumes of highly confidential documents” related to content moderation, the company said, would undermine the effectiveness of Twitter’s policies and compromise its abilities to carry out such moderation.
The company said it tried to work out an agreement with the Texas attorney general to limit the scope of his office’s request, which sought all of the company’s policies, but the two parties were not able to do so.
“Instead, AG Paxton made clear that he will use the full weight of his office, including his expansive investigatory powers, to retaliate against Twitter for having made editorial decisions with which he disagrees,” the company said.
Representatives for Twitter and the Texas attorney general did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Paxton has sparred with the social media platform in the past over its content moderation policies, asserting in a Fox News opinion piece last May that Twitter’s fact checkers were politically biased against Trump.
However, Twitter was not the only platform to take action against Trump in response to the events on Jan. 6. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, a Google subsidiary, all took their own steps to sanction him. Contrary to Twitter, they all have since reinstated the former president’s accounts, although he has not made any new posts after leaving office.
The court filing is the latest development in an ongoing battle between social media companies and those on the right, who have viewed attempts to fact-check content and de-platform conservative accounts as indicative of a societal cancel culture intent on silencing Republican voices.
Conservatives latched on to accusations against Big Tech as a rallying cry in the aftermath of the riots, with some predicting that it could be a key GOP issue for the midterm elections and in 2024. The anti-Silicon Valley sentiment is now a defining theme of the Republican Party, which has in recent years hauled in CEOs for hearings. Last fall, Trump appointees filed two major antitrust suits against Google and Facebook.