Twitch could be sued for removing footage of the racially-motivated terror attack that took place in Buffalo, New York over the weekend. Under a relatively recent law passed in Texas, the Amazon-owned streaming giant could potentially be liabile after removing the shooter’s attempt to broadcast his act of evil to the world.
The law relates to "censorship", and particularly social media sites' responsibility not to "censor" anything posted to their domains. This runs counter to most legal interpretations of freedom of expression and censorship on a wider scale, with users long having understood that voluntarily signing up for a private platform like Twitter, Reddit or Facebook means you do in fact have to conform to the terms of service you agree to.
However, the seemingly behind-the-times lawmakers in Texas have taken a different stance. Not only do they attempt to limit sites’ ability to moderate what is posted, they also include a clause (shown below) that allows people who have their posts removed to hide behind the argument they were censored on the nebulous grounds of their "viewpoint", which could have been expressed anywhere.
CENSORSHIP PROHIBITED. (a) A social media platform may not censor a user, a user’s expression, or a user’s ability to receive the expression of another person based on:
(1) the viewpoint of the user or another person;
(2) the viewpoint represented in the user’s expression or another person’s expression; or
(3) a user’s geographic location in this state or any part of this state.
(b) This section applies regardless of whether the viewpoint is expressed on a social media platform or through any other medium.
In practice, this means that any recalcitrant user with the funds and time could take a platform to court, and force them to defend their decision (more information on that here). Malicious lawsuits are a well-known practice in the United States.
There are some caveats in the Texan law, like the need for a site to have 50M monthly active users (MAU) for it to qualify, which could potentially protect some less popular platforms. It does, however, allow suits to be brought in multiple districts, so even if a site were to defend itself in one court or area, a user could simply refile elsewhere and force another suit, with further time and expenses for the defendant.
It remains to be seen if anyone in Texas, or in fact America, is genuinely inclined to bring a suit over the removal of a video that shows nothing more than a racist massacre of innocent people. However, the potential exists, meaning that in future it may be even harder for companies like Twitch to do the right thing in the most terrifying of circumstances.