By a large margin, the Texas House of Representatives on Monday approved a content moderation bill that would impose limits on the ability of large tech platforms to block inappropriate or dangerous content that may pose a threat to online users. The passage comes just two months after a federal judge in Florida blocked a similar law, saying it most likely violates the free speech rights of online platforms.
“Our government relies on the good faith exchange of ideas, and when much of the conversation is muted, both sides suffer,” said bill sponsor Rep. Briscoe Cain.
House Bill 20, which passed the Republican-controlled House on a 77-49 vote, will now go to the Senate, as part of the ongoing special legislative session. It would require companies to follow new guidance for enforcing content moderation policies, a move triggered by concerns that social media companies have improperly banned certain political candidates and speech.
The tech industry opposes the legislation, which it says could disincentivize or even penalize companies for removing dangerous content, such as material from foreign extremists or misinformation. They argue that the bill sets a dangerous precedent by forcing private companies to host foreign disinformation or extremist content, contrary to the First Amendment.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association argues that the First Amendment empowers private companies, not the government, to determine what material is appropriate for their communities.
“Digital services have a First Amendment right to refuse to host users that promote suicide and self-harm, or that peddle racism and hate, for example,” said CCIA President matt Schruers. “This bill disagrees and would give foreign extremists trafficking in vicious propaganda a platform to spread lies that put Americans at risk. Leading technology providers don’t want that, and nor do Texans.”
The bill is likely to be challenged in court if it is approved by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, who strongly supports the measure and has been a vocal proponent of punishing technology companies during the legislative session.