For years, many have demanded an end to tech monopolies controlling speech. A new bill being considered in the Texas Senate could help fight back.
State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola) has filed Senate Bill 12 to stop the tech industry’s arbitrary censorship of political opinions. If passed, social media platforms would officially be within the public interest and subject to state regulation.
With social media companies holding a virtual monopoly on controlling online speech, and censorship disproportionally aimed at conservatives, there has been strong public demand in recent months to rein in their unfettered dominance.
If enacted, Hughes’ bill would prohibit tech platforms with 100 million-plus users from censoring and deplatforming Texans based on their views and geographic location. The bill’s protection would extend to those living, doing business in, or receiving content within Texas.
However, not all content is protected under this proposal. All “unlawful expression,” defined as speech that violates federal and state law, as well as the U.S. and Texas Constitutions, may still be censored.
Under this bill, social media platforms found guilty of censorship would be mandated to pay the plaintiff’s court costs and legal fees. If the guilty corporation refuses, it will be held in contempt, allowing the court to levy penalties, including daily fines for every day of noncompliance.
Facebook, Google, and Twitter representatives were invited to a hearing of the Senate State Affairs Committee to discuss the legislation on Monday, but they chose not to appear.
Defending his bill, Hughes invoked Justice Anthony Kennedy: “Perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to the private citizen to make his point of view known.”
Hughes explained his bill also required a normal complaint mechanism for users and was merely the application of 200 years of First Amendment jurisprudence to social media.
When asked how the bill would reconcile with Section 230, which shields tech monopolies from accountability for censorship, Sen. Hughes said states are still allowed to regulate websites, and there would not be penalties for censorship. Instead, social media companies must allow the censored person back on their platform and pay the plaintiff’s court costs and attorney fees. If platforms refuse to comply, they will be fined for noncompliance.
Despite opposition from pro-big tech think-tank representatives, public testimony was largely in support of Hughes’s bill. Jeremy Dias of First Liberty Institute, a legal nonprofit that defends religious liberty, gave examples of conservatives targeted by tech monopoly censorship. Focus on the Family, he demonstrated, had its Twitter account locked for merely stating opposition to a presidential nominee. He then explained, using Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, that private companies are not immune to regulation on giving special treatment to certain groups, and different views must be protected.
This bill comes after numerous Republican activists and leaders, including President Donald Trump, have been censored or deplatformed by social media platforms.
The bill was left pending in committee.