State lawmakers debate bill that would allow ‘censorship’ lawsuits against social media companies

Published: Mar. 8, 2021 at 7:00 PM CST
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KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) - Senate Bill 12 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, would prohibit social media companies from blocking, banning or demonetizing Texans for what they post on social media and provide an avenue for users to sue these companies in court.

The bill — a response to what Hughes called “censorship” of conservative viewpoints by social media companies — was heard in front of the powerful Senate Committee on State Affairs on Monday.

“Of course they have to moderate content — violence, overtly sexual posts — but they can’t deny you participation based on your viewpoint, your religion, your political preferences,” Hughes said at the hearing.

His bill would allow users who have been blocked by social media companies to sue the companies for renewed access to the platform and their attorney’s fees.

However, several witnesses at the hearing said that state lawmakers are on shaky legal ground.

“How do you figure that Texas can somehow force Facebook, Twitter and Youtube to carry speech that’s against their community guidelines?” asked Steve DelBianco, president and CEO of the trade association NetChoice.

DelBianco said that social media companies are private businesses and that the First Amendment only protects against government censorship.

“Your bill will be set aside by court, most likely, at which point you will have proven that states are powerless to force social media to carry speech they don’t want to carry,” he said.

Darrell West, a vice president who specializes in technology issues at the Brookings Institution, agreed that “it’s not clear the bill is going to be constitutional.”

He also said that the bill would clash with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which shields social media companies from being sued for content on their platforms.

“The federal government is probably not going to want states to be adopting their own particular bills in this area,” West told KWTX.

“There’s a lot of freedom for the social media platforms to control what appears on their space,” he said.

West called the bill “red meat for conservatives.”

“Republicans know their base is very upset with Trump getting kicked off of Twitter and Facebook,” West said.

“This bill responds to that anger that is out there,” he said.

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