AUSTIN — As social media giants continue to muzzle conservatives online, the state Legislature finally took action to stop it in Texas.
On Thursday, the Texas Senate and the House of Representatives both voted mostly on a party line to approve House Bill 20, a proposed law to protect Texans’ free speech online. The law will require social media companies to publicly disclose their various content management practices and policies—such as how they decide which content to promote or suppress—and will expressly prohibit them from targeting people solely because of their political beliefs.
“A social media platform may not censor a user, a user’s expression, or a user’s ability to receive the expression of another person based on: (1) the viewpoint of the user or another person; (2) the viewpoint represented in the user ’s expression or another person’s expression; or (3) a user ’s geographic location in this state or any part of this state,” reads HB 20.
The proposed law does give exception to allow certain censoring “that the social media platform is specifically authorized to censor by federal law.”
However, the bill allows Texans banned because of their political views to sue social media companies for discriminating against them, and the Texas attorney general may also intervene to bring lawsuits against the companies.
The overall issue traces back to several months ago, when companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple began banning citizens who did not agree with them—most notably, when Twitter deleted the account of President Donald Trump.
Subsequently, state lawmakers proposed a similar law earlier this year in their regular legislative session to stop the companies’ discrimination. But even though the proposal was one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top priorities, Republican lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives killed the effort.
Additionally, Gov. Greg Abbott, while publicly bashing Facebook for their censorship, was privately working with them to build a new campus in Texas—potentially at the taxpayers’ expense. However, Abbott did list the censorship issue as one of his legislative priorities for the summer special sessions.
And while some argue tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter have the right to ban or censor whomever they want, former State Rep. Jonathan Stickland said it’s not that simple.
“You see, for years, our government has provided special treatment to both of these companies. In fact, it has literally taken money from taxpayers and handed it over to Facebook and Twitter to build their companies,” Stickland wrote in a January post.
“Crony capitalism ruins so much. … Politicians helped create Facebook and Twitter, and now those ‘private companies’ have silenced and deplatformed the leader of the free world, the U.S. president. Along with many other conservative voices,” Stickland added. “Things aren’t simple anymore.”
“Social media is the modern public square and I will continue to stand so every Texan has the right to participate,” tweeted State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola), the Senate sponsor of the law.
“The cable company cannot deny you service based on your religion,” Hughes said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. “Your cell phone provider doesn’t cut you off because of your politics.”
“For the first time, Texas will have some recourse.”
The bill will now head to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.