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Warning: Texas Is Trying to Chill Free Speech Online!

November 1, 2023

On August 4, 2023, Pornhub, the adult industry advocacy group Free Speech Coalition, and other members of the adult industry sued the state of Texas. The lawsuit was an attempt to block H.B. 1181, which requires porn sites to display a “Texas Health and Human Services Warning” and age verification pop-ups.

“TEXAS HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES WARNING: Pornography is potentially biologically addictive, is proven to harm human brain development, desensitizes brain reward circuits, increases conditioned responses, and weakens brain function. TEXAS HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES WARNING: Exposure to this content is associated with low self-esteem and body image, eating disorders, impaired brain development, and other emotional and mental illnesses. TEXAS HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES WARNING: Pornography increases the demand for prostitution, child exploitation, and child pornography.”

In their complaint, plaintiffs argued that the law violates the U.S. Constitution and the federal Communications Decency Act, noting that the mandated statements for porn sites would be “a mix of falsehoods, discredited pseudo-science, and baseless accusations.”

Thankfully, the plaintiffs were successful, and a district judge agreed to temporarily block H.B. 1181. But this victory is complicated. Even without the H.B. 1181 requirements in effect, some sites are already displaying a Texas Health and Human Services warning. Samantha Cole notes that on Vixen Media Group’s sites in Texas, pop-ups now assert that “porn is ‘biologically’ addictive, that it ‘weakens’ brain function,’ and that it causes ‘impaired brain development’” – all claims that aren’t supported by science.

We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation join Cole in recognizing these “warnings” for what they are: unproven assertions that both feed and draw upon moral panic about sex and sexuality. We vehemently oppose H.B. 1181: it infringes on our human right to access sexual content, and it chills free speech online.

Photo of the Texas Capital Building

A phot of the top of the Texas Capital building. The Texas and American flags are both waiving in the wind. The sky is blue and there are green leafy trees framing the building. (Photo by Clark Van Der Beken)

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