Texas state lawmakers are moving closer to enacting a proposal to reduce what they call censorship of conservatives on social media, though legal experts warn about its constitutionality.
The Republican-controlled state Senate approved the bill Tuesday night after it already passed the state House. It should soon arrive on the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, a supporter of the legislation.
H.B. 20 would follow the lead of Florida and other states in going after social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for alleged anti-conservative bias and censorship.
“The cable company cannot deny you service based on your religion,” Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Your cellphone provider doesn’t cut you off because of your politics.”
Florida passed a similar law last month, but a federal judge blocked it from going into effect. Meanwhile, other states, such as Utah and North Dakota, are also pushing for laws to reduce censorship.
The bill would stop social media giants with more than 50 million monthly users from banning Texans for making political statements.
It would also require social media companies to be transparent about content moderation policies, make public reports about content they remove, and create an appeals process for users who disagree with content decisions.
Abbott has supported similar legislation, saying in March he was in favor of bills that “help prohibit social media companies from censoring Texans based on the viewpoints they express.”
Abbott said he wanted to “prevent social media platforms from canceling conservative speech,” a complaint lodged by many conservatives after former President Donald Trump was banned from most major platforms for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
However, critics of the bill argue it is illegal because it violates the First Amendment rights of social media platforms by forcing them to carry content they don’t want to.
“Texas legislators apparently learned nothing from watching Florida embarrass itself a month ago in federal court trying to defend its unconstitutional social media speech code,” said Ari Cohn, free speech counsel at TechFreedom, a nonpartisan technology think tank. “While the language in Texas’s bill is different, the outcome will be the same because the First Amendment protects against government intrusion into editorial discretion. The First Amendment also certainly prohibits courts from ordering websites to publish certain expression against their will.”
Conservative lawyers say the Texas legislation, and others like it, could backfire and result in less conservative speech and a number of onerous lawsuits.
“While this bill claims to be supporting free speech, it really violates the First Amendment and ties online business down with red tape that forces all kinds of websites to host the worst content the internet has to offer, such as obscene, antisemitic, and hateful posts,” said Carl Szabo, vice president at NetChoice, a tech trade group that supported the lawsuit blocking the Florida law. “By ignoring the First Amendment, the Texas Legislature has chosen to abandon its own conservative and constitutional values in order to put the government in control of speech online.”
As more Republican legislatures push for laws to reduce so-called censorship, pressure is increasing to create federal legislation to address the issue of social media content moderation by updating laws in Congress rather than a patchwork of inconsistent state laws.
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Original Author: Nihal Krishan