Texas legislation seeks to prohibit social media companies from banning users based on certain viewpoints

Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 7:08 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Texas is spearheading an effort that legislators claim is to protect freedom of speech rights on social media. Senate bill 12 would prohibit social media companies from discriminating against users posting certain viewpoints.

Governor Greg Abbott touted this bill Friday afternoon during a press conference in Tyler, Texas.

If this law passes, social media companies would not be able to block, ban or discriminate against user’s viewpoints.

Anyone who feels like they have been wrongfully banned from a platform would be able to sue the companies. On top of that, the attorney general could file a lawsuit on their behalf.

If a social media company fails to comply, the court could impose “daily penalties to secure compliance.”

“It would also allow any Texan who has been cancelled or censored or de-platformed to be able to file a lawsuit against Twitter, Facebook, or any of these other companies and make sure they are able to get back on so they can share their viewpoints so that we can have a robust conversation on all of these platforms about our political viewpoints,” Abbott said during Friday’s press conference.

State senator Bryan Hughes said this law would only apply to political and religious speech.

“We’re not talking about lewd, lascivious obscenity or anything like that,” Hughes said.

Currently, social media companies are considered private businesses under section 230 of The Communications Decency Act. Under this federal law, private companies can create rules to restrict speech- if they choose. And cannot be sued for the content users post.

However, Governor Abbott said this law is the first-time legislation has found a way around Section 230.

“They try to basically cut through section 230 this legislation actually wires around 230 it pursues a path this not prohibited by section 230. And that is what makes this different,” Abbott said. “It allows people to get back online who have been banned from the platform. And there has been no legislation like that offered up before. "

State Senator Hughes announced that governor Abbott’s legal team has just filed a brief with the Supreme Court that under section 230, individual states have the right to protect free speech.

However, media law professor Ann Rodriguez said the first amendment only protects us from the government restricting free speech. The first line in this bill asks to change social media companies from private businesses to common carriers, like phone companies.

Rodriguez said they would be held to the same standard as phone companies or internet service providers. Whether that change can happen is up to the courts.

“Common carriers are restricted to the constitutional restrictions in the same way state actors would be for this purpose,” Rodriguez said.

Whether that change can happen is up to the courts, Rodriguez said.

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