Last Friday, the Texas House of Representatives passed HB 20 relating to censorship of or certain other interference with digital expression, including expression on social media platforms.
Despite private community standards issued by such platforms, the bill authored by Republican State Rep. Briscoe Cain would make it illegal for social media companies to remove content related to the users’ viewpoints.
According to the Texas Tribune, now on its way to the governor’s desk, the legislation would require social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube — those with more than 50 million monthly users in the U.S. — to produce regular reports of removed content, create a complaint system and disclose their content regulation procedures.
However, it has already encountered widespread criticism for the overregulation of private entities and suspicions on the bill’s legality even from the sponsors’ fellow Republicans. During the House debate, state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said HB 20 raises serious First Amendment concerns.
“How will a government not use this slippery slope to mandate how other companies and what they can or cannot allow their customers to say or to do, conducting private transactions,” Capriglione said.
Democrats fought for the bill’s amendment in a last attempt to allow platforms to remove vaccine disinformation as well as anti-Semitic and terrorist content, but Republicans succeeded in defeating all three amendments, effectively requiring that social media sites carry all three types of content.
Cain’s proposed legislation leverages on Governor Greg Abbott’s efforts during the regular legislative session when he also tried silencing social media companies arguing they were part of a dangerous movement against conservative thought and religious beliefs.
The bill is also intended to allow previously banned users back on the social media platform they were censored from, which includes the author of HB 20, Briscoe Cain.
In a Press Release, the Chamber of Progress noted that Texas Rep. Briscoe Cain admitted during this week’s bill hearing that he himself had been temporarily blocked from Twitter after threatening gun violence against presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.
When asked whether his threat posts should have been allowed to stay up, Rep. Cain responded, “Of course.”
“Between Florida and Texas, we’re now used to seeing Republicans mandate that social media sites carry hate speech. But Texas Republicans voting to protect Holocaust denial and terrorist speech online is a sad new low,” said Chamber of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich. “Most Americans want a safer Internet, but this gives hate groups and extremists an open invitation into your newsfeed.”