Last week, Texas joined the growing pushback against Big Tech censorship when Governor Greg Abbott announced his support for a Texas bill that would prohibit the online censorship of political and religious viewpoints.
“Silencing conservative views is un-American, it’s un-Texan and it’s about to be illegal in Texas,” Abbott wrote on Twitter last week ahead of a Friday press conference.
Speaking alongside Abbott at the press conference was the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Bryan Hughes. Both figures made strong statements about free speech, the current threat of Big Tech, and their understanding of Texas’s role in this national struggle.
“Texas is standing against big tech political censorship,” Abbott said. “We’re not going to allow it in the Lone Star State.”
Likewise, Hughes called out the “handful of billionaires in Silicon Valley” for stifling the free exchange of ideas, and declared that Texas would not stand for it.
“It’s going to take every state, following Texas’s lead of course, to get this right and to restore free speech and freedom,” said Hughes.
Texas Senate Bill 12 — “Relating to the censorship of users’ expressions by an interactive computer service” — is two-pronged. If passed, it would prohibit social media companies from censoring the political and religious viewpoints of Texans. It would also pave a way for Texas citizens to sue a social media company for the wrongful censorship or deplatforming of their opinions.
According to AP News, somewhere near two dozen states have proposed similar legislation in response to the increase of online censorship during the 2020 election period, coming to a head with the banning of former President Donald Trump from Facebook and Twitter in January. Even other nations, such as Poland, are considering similar protections for their citizens.
Critics of such legislative attempts point out that there is a freedom of speech issue with government dictating to private entities whether or not they can control content posted to their platforms. Their argument is that if the government cannot dictate to the New York Times or to a local bookstore what content they can and cannot print or sell, neither should the government be able to control social media’s ability to censor content.
Additionally, free speech advocate David Horowitz pointed out to CBS News that the greatest challenge to state laws such as this is the fact that the internet “operates across state lines,” making the application of state-specific law difficult.
Another hurdle that state legislation such as Senate Bill 12 could face is Section 230, the superseding federal Communications Decency Act, which protects social media platforms from being held responsible for content posted to their sites, while simultaneously allowing them to restrict broadly-defined “objectionable” content without fear of legal repercussions. This has been referred to as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
But free speech advocates have countered that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are very much the modern-day public square. If phone companies cannot discriminate against customers based on their political views, neither should social media companies.
“Social media sites like Twitter, like Facebook, they have evolved into the modern day public square,” said Abbott on Friday. “These are the areas that used to be the courthouse square where people would come to talk. Now people are going to Facebook and Twitter to talk about their political ideas. And what Facebook and Twitter are doing, they are controlling the flow of information and sometimes denying the flow of information.”
Governor Abbott’s hope is to sign Senate Bill 12 into law before the end of session on September 1.
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Prof: America now has two Constitutions — Yours and Big Tech’s. People who are being debanked, depublished, and deplatformed are discovering that, whatever the Constitution says, they don’t have rights if Big Tech says they don’t. Michael Lind argues that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a “Get out of jail free” card for Big Tech authoritarians. Change that, he says.