Texas lawmakers seem determined to make sure the recent push for more regulation of content hosted by globally most influential social media platforms – something that critics say may easily produce censorship – ends up being fairly distributed across the political divide in the US.
And the vote in Texas this week on Senate Bill (SB) 2373 shows the relevance of this consideration – as all but one Republicans voted in favor, while Democrats all opposed it, save one member who was absent. The bill – that aims to prevent the likes of Facebook and Twitter from censoring content on the basis of political views – passed 18-12 and will now have to be confirmed by the House, The Austin American-Statesman is reporting.
In New Zealand, Australia, and the European Union – to name some of the most prominent “global districts” – the focus is on making sure that social media giants obey local legislation that regulates and prohibits such things as “hate speech.” But in the US, where hate speech is an unknown category in legal terms, the concern is that “self-regulation” by tech companies could end up exposing their bias and suppressing legitimate speech, squarely on ideological grounds.
As SB 2372‘s author Bryan Hughes (R) put it – “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.”
He specified that the bill’s goal was to address complaints of discrimination voiced by conservatives.
Originally, the bill called for allowing anyone whose posts had been banned on these platforms to sue. But SB 2372 has been amended ahead of the vote to say that the state attorney general is the entity that will be able to file lawsuits, in case of suspicions of unfair censoring of content.
Social media posts deemed to be “lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable” could still be legally blocked in Texas, in case the bill is approved.
A suggestion by the Democrats to include the definition “false and fraudulent” – essentially, a “rebranding” of “fake news” – into the range within which tech companies would still be allowed to censor content, has been rejected.
The bill’s author argued that this is covered under “otherwise objectionable” – a category that federal courts have in the past interpreted as “a broad safe harbor for removing false or deceptive content.”