Despite warnings from media giants that they wouldn’t be able to protect Texans from dangerous extremist content, Gov. Greg Abbott has signed legislation that will prevent social media platforms from blocking what they consider inappropriate material. The governor’s action is similar to a new Florida law recently blocked by a federal judge.
The governor says House Bill 20 is designed to protect Texans from wrongful censorship on social media platforms. Critics, led by the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), say it unconstitutionally undermines the First Amendment by encouraging lawsuits when content from anyone – even online scammers or foreign radicals – is removed.
“Social media websites have become our modern-day public square,” Gov. Abbott said in signing the legislation. “They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely – but there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas.”
The new law prevents big social media companies – those with more than 50 million monthly users – from banning users simply based on their political viewpoints. The law also requires the social media sites to disclose their content management and moderation policies and establish an appeals process. Under the measure, email service providers cannot impede the transmission of email messages based on content.
The legislation comes just two months after a federal judge in Florida ruled in favor of CCIA, which filed a lawsuit to block a similar law in that state. The judge said the Florida law likely violated the U.S. Constitution and federal law, although his ruling is now on appeal.
“This ill-advised and clearly unconstitutional legislation would prevent digital services from protecting their law-abiding users in Texas by fighting malicious online actors,” said CCIA President Matt Schruers. “It could compel platforms to carry all manner of dangerous content – from Nazi party political speech to extremist messages from the Taliban. Its proponents claim this law protects free speech, but compelling private companies to host extremist content couldn’t be further from what the Founders intended.”