Gov. Greg Abbott promotes bill to stop Twitter and Facebook from banning Texans

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Condemn “a dangerous move” to “silence conservative ideas [and] religious beliefs, ”Governor Greg Abbott on Friday promoted a bill that aims to end perceived censorship of conservative voices by social media companies.

“They are controlling the flow of information and sometimes denying the flow of information,” the Republican governor said at a news conference in Tyler. “And they are in a position to choose which points of view they will be allowed to present. Texas is taking a stand against political censorship of big tech. We are not going to allow it in the lone star state. “

Abbott was joined by State Senator Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who sponsors the measure and chairs the powerful Senate State Affairs Committee. Hughes said the bill would give Texans the right to restore their accounts when they are “abused.”

“We have a handful of billionaires in San Francisco who run these tech companies,” Hughes said. “It does not make them the guardians of freedom of expression. But that’s what they want to be. “

Senate Bill 12 would prohibit social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, from blocking, banning, demonetizing, or otherwise discriminating against a user based on their point of view or their location within Texas.

It would apply to anyone who lives, does business, or has a social media following in Texas. Under the proposal, a person who feels they have been unfairly excluded from a platform can file a claim in court. The Texas attorney general can also file a claim on behalf of an individual. If a social media company does not comply, the bill stipulates that the court can impose “sufficient daily penalties to ensure immediate compliance.”

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who chairs the Texas Senate, has identified the bill as one of his 31 priorities for this legislative session. Hughes introduced a similar bill in 2019 that won Senate approval but died on the state House committee.

Facebook and Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.

TechNet, an industry association, said removing content restrictions could open the way for children to be exposed to “harmful content from malicious users online.”

“This bill not only recklessly encourages companies to leave objectionable content in the public eye, it also creates a culture that supports frivolous lawsuits against US companies,” said Servando Esparza, group executive director in Texas and the Southwest , it’s a statement.

Hughes said his legislation would only apply to political and religious speech.

“We are not talking about lewd, lewd obscenities or anything like that,” Hughes said.

The rhetoric about silencing conservatives increased after the 2020 elections, when platforms such as Facebook and Twitter removed former President Donald Trump’s account for inciting violence during the January 6 insurrection in the US Capitol.

Republican politicians have long targeted tech giants, accusing them of an anti-conservative bias and silencing free speech, even though actions to ban members often responded to credible evidence that the Communications incited violence.

Experts note that the First Amendment, which protects free speech, only prohibits government censorship. That leaves private companies to choose their own protocols.

“From a First Amendment perspective, social media companies are private actors and not subject to the First Amendment,” Scot Powe, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told The Texas Tribune in January. “So it is a question of constitutional law. They can be as biased as they want in whatever direction they choose. “

In January, Twitter removed more than 70,000 accounts linked to the dangerous conspiracy theorist group QAnon over the movement’s connection to the attack on the US Capitol. Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist who often defends already violent views. Racist times, he has been banned from Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify, among others. And Twitter in February permanently ousted MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a fierce Trump ally who continually spread false claims about voter fraud.

Closer to home, State Representative Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, had his Twitter account temporarily suspended in September 2019 when he tweeted “My AR is ready for you” to then-Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

Cain’s tweet was in response to O’Rourke’s calls for a mandatory gun buyback program.

Twitter in September 2020 targeted Democratic candidate Elizabeth Hernandez, who was challenging Republican Rep. Kevin Brady for his House seat. The platform forced her to delete a tweet that violated its anti-suppression rules because it encouraged people to tell Trump supporters to vote on the wrong day.

Tech companies also face scrutiny from Congress, from both sides of the aisle. In recent weeks, Democrats and Republicans have set their sights on reforming or repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The provision protects technology companies from liability for the content users post on their websites. platforms.

At a congressional hearing last October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers that “Democrats often say we don’t remove enough content, and Republicans often say we remove too much.”

“Just because both parties are criticizing us doesn’t mean we’re doing this right, but it does mean that there are real disagreements about where the boundaries of online speech should be,” he said.

Abbott argued Friday that the provision does not protect companies against lawsuits that could be brought under SB 12. Instead, it said it “connects” with Section 230.

“We are making sure that these companies are forced to comply with Senator Hughes’ bill to ensure that the conservative speech of Texans is not canceled,” Abbott said.

Abbott’s office filed a brief with the United States Supreme Court that argued that states have the right to protect free speech, Hughes said.

Both President Joe Biden and his predecessor have voiced support for the revision of Section 230. Trump called for its complete repeal, as have several lawmakers within his party.

Meanwhile, three US Democratic senators have introduced a bill that would reform the provision. Under the SAFE TECH Act, users can sue social media companies for content on their platforms that is threatening, harassing, discriminatory, or abusive.

The state bill comes as Texas politicians, including Abbott, have tried to entice tech companies to relocate to the state from California’s expensive Silicon Valley tech hub. Elon Musk, CEO of electric car company Tesla Motors, recently announced that he would be moving to the state. Software company Oracle said in December it would move its headquarters from California to Austin.

SB 12 is scheduled for its first hearing before the State Affairs Committee on Monday.

Disclosure: Facebook and the University of Texas have financially supported The Texas Tribune, a non-profit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in Tribune journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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