Justices Seemed Open to Challenges to Social Media Laws

During several hours of arguments today, the Supreme Court appeared skeptical of laws in Florida and Texas that ban major social media companies from making editorial judgments about which messages to allow. The justices seemed to align more closely with the social media companies, which accused the laws of violating the First Amendment.

The court’s decision, which is expected in June, will almost certainly be its most important statement on the scope of free speech in the internet era.

A ruling in favor of the states would expose users to a greater variety of viewpoints but would almost certainly amplify the ugliest aspects of the digital age, including hate speech and disinformation. A ruling in favor of the social media platforms seemed more likely, though the justices seemed poised to return the cases to the lower courts to answer questions about how other websites — like Gmail, Venmo and Uber — should be allowed to moderate users’ speech.

Supporters of the laws said that they were an attempt to combat any Silicon Valley censorship of conservative views, prompted in part by the decisions of some platforms to bar Donald Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Hungary’s Parliament voted today to accept Sweden as a new member of NATO, clearing the final hurdle that had long held up the expansion of the military alliance. The approval sealed a major shift in the balance of power between the West and Russia set off by the war in Ukraine.

The vote followed a decision by Sweden to provide Hungary with four Swedish-made fighter jets and a promise that Saab, which manufactures the warplanes, would open an A.I. research center in Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who has maintained cordial relations with President Vladimir Putin, has a long record of using his veto power over key decisions in Europe.

Israeli negotiators have signaled that the country could release 15 Palestinians convicted of major terrorism charges in exchange for five female Israeli soldiers held hostage in Gaza.

The idea, a major shift in Israeli strategy, could bring the sides closer to a hostage deal and a pause in fighting. The Israeli government previously avoided such a concession partly because the release of Palestinians convicted of such crimes would attract significant domestic criticism.

In related news, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, the body that administers part of the West Bank, tendered the resignation of his cabinet. The U.S. and Arab states have been trying to persuade the authority to position itself to take over the administration of Gaza after the war.

The Federal Trade Commission sued today to block Kroger, the supermarket giant, from completing its $24.6 billion acquisition of the grocery chain Albertsons, in what would be the largest supermarket merger in U.S. history.

The regulators argued that the deal would hurt competition, result in higher prices for customers and reduce the ability for employees to negotiate for higher wages. Kroger, which announced its plans for the deal 16 months ago, said that the merger was necessary in order for the two chains to compete against big-box retailers like Walmart, Costco and Amazon.

  • Court: Manhattan prosecutors requested a gag order on Donald Trump to protect jurors and witnesses in the first criminal trial of a former president.

  • Russia: Allies of Aleksei Navalny said that he was on the verge of being freed in a prisoner exchange before he died.

  • Weather: In the Midwest tonight, record warmth could be followed by frigid weather, creating the opportunity for possible tornadoes and hail the size of hen eggs.

  • Economy: Rental inflation may finally be moderating, but that’s not showing up in inflation data. Here’s why.

  • U.S.: 42 people involved in demonstrations against a police training facility in Atlanta have been charged under Georgia’s domestic terrorism law.

  • Congress: House Democrats are considering long-shot maneuvers to force a vote on a Ukraine aid bill, but there is dissent over its funding for Israel.

  • Immigration: A $25 million plan to resettle 1,250 migrant families across New York State has moved only about 170 households.

  • Politics: Talks are in place to persuade Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, to endorse Donald Trump — even though they haven’t spoken in four years.

  • New York City: The death of Flaco, the Eurasian eagle-owl who escaped from the Central Park Zoo last February, called attention to the problem of bird strikes.

  • Education: A $1 billion donation to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, likely the largest ever to a medical school, will cover tuition for all students going forward.

  • Health: The comedian Amy Schumer announced that she had a rare hormonal disorder, Cushing’s syndrome.

HBO will premiere on Sunday a comedy series, “The Regime,” starring Kate Winslet as Elena Vernham, a neurotic autocrat losing her grip on her Central European country. On one occasion, Elena broadcasts a message to her struggling, starving country at Christmas: a video of her singing “Santa Baby” in a fur-trimmed miniskirt and boots.

Winslet said the role had been “a heck of a lot of fun,” adding: “I have to let the audience know, this is something they are allowed to laugh at.”

The U.S. space agency is confident that it will be able to send people to Mars and ensure that they can survive on poisonous soil in unbreathable air. But on NASA’s list of 800 problems to solve might be one even greater than the technological ones: the trauma of isolation.

So the space agency asked four ordinary people to enact, for 378 days, the lives of Martian colonists as residents of Mars Dune Alpha, a 1,700-square-foot habitat built inside a warehouse at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In space news, Odysseus, the U.S. robotic spacecraft that landed on the moon last week, is likely to die in the next day or so. The company that built the spacecraft released photos of its landing.

Judy D’Mello vividly remembers her mother’s insistence to not waste food. So when Judy learned of an app that connects eaters with unsold food that would otherwise be thrown out, she experimented for a week.

Restaurant throwaways turn out to offer an affordable and tasty yet carb-heavy diet. The meals were mostly sold in “surprise bags,” which Judy said added an addictive experience of gambling: a dozen bagels on one day, two pounds of halibut on another.

Have a delectable evening.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Matthew

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