Austin, TX – Legislation is pending in the Texas state house that would allow lawsuits against social media platforms if they restrict users based on their political viewpoints.
“Senate Bill 2373 tries to prevent those companies that control these new public spaces, this new public square, from picking winners and losers based on content,” said Republican Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes, the bill’s sponsor, during a committee hearing. “Basically if the company represents, ‘We’re an open forum and we don’t discriminate based on content,’ then they shouldn’t be able to discriminate based on content.”
Hughes said SB 2373 applies to social media platforms that claim to be unbiased but still censor some users, The Texas Tribune reported.
The bill’s author said he was motivated to propose the measure in response to complaints of discriminatory treatment of conservatives and conservative groups by social media platforms that were supposed to be impartial, the Statesman reported.
“If you hold yourself out as being an open forum and that you don’t discriminate based on viewpoint, then you have to keep your word,” Hughes told the state senators.
Supporters also said the pending bill would protect the free exchange of ideas.
Opponents of SB 2373 claim that it contradicts federal law that lets social media platforms regulate their own content, The Texas Tribune reported.
Federal law protects social media platforms under a “Good Samaritan” policy give them the authority to moderate content on the platform however they want, or on a subjective basis, according to The Texas Tribune.
The legislation was approved by the Texas State Senate on April 25 in a vote of 18 to 12, but only after an amendment was made that specified a lawsuit could only be brought by the state’s attorney general, the Statesman reported.
The original proposed legislation would have let anybody who had been blocked, removed, or restricted sue a social media giant.
Hughes said the attorney general could initiate a lawsuit or file it in response to complaints that had been filed by consumers with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the Statesman reported.
He also said there were protections left in place for the social media companies.
Hughes said a social media company could not be penalized for restricting content it “reasonably considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable,” according to the Statesman.
The removal of what the company believes is “false statements” would also be protected under the safe harbor for removing “otherwise objectionable” posts.
Opponents of the legislation fear it will restrict a social media platform’s ability to regulate objectionable material, The Daily Texan reported.
The bill passed through the Senate and is awaiting a committee assignment in the state house.
Its supporters have until May 27 – the last day of the legislative session – to get it approved and pushed through the other chamber so it can be sent to the governor for his signature before June 16, according to The Daily Texan.