Texas Is Crafting Measure to Bar Big Tech Censorship, Following Florida’s Lead

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
February 8, 2021Updated: February 9, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he’s working with state legislators on a bill to prevent big tech companies from taking action to moderate user content based on political viewpoints.

“We are working with Sen. [Bryan] Hughes on legislation to prevent social media providers like Facebook & Twitter from cancelling conservative speech,” Abbott said in a Feb. 7 statement on Twitter.

His announcement follows a Florida proposal that would seek to penalize social media companies that de-platform candidates during an election. The legislation would fine companies $100,000 a day until the candidate’s access to the platform is restored.

Florida would also require companies who promote a candidate to record such endorsements as a political campaign contribution at the state’s election commission.

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Several states are taking steps to protect the free flow of speech and prevent Silicon Valley companies from using their monopoly to police speech they don’t agree with. These companies have been scrutinized repeatedly for their perceived political bias and alleged unbalanced moderation of users’ content. Critics say much of the companies’ moderation in the past year has focused on conservative speech and speech from individuals deemed to be supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Hughes, a Republican, told Inside Texas Politics that the measure he and Abbott intend to introduce will address any unbalanced moderation of user accounts by social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook.

“Federal law does allow us to regulate these companies and so the bill we’re getting ready to file will say that if a company discriminates against you, if the platforms blocks or kicks you off based on your viewpoint, based on your politics or religion based on viewpoint discrimination, it will give you a way to get back online,” Hughes said.

Officials at Google, Facebook, and Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

On the same day, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also confirmed that his state will take further steps to address big tech censorship, adding that the state has already started by filing an antitrust lawsuit against Google in December 2020.

“I am so encouraged with what he’s doing in Florida. Thank you Gov. [Ron] DeSantis for doing that,” Paxton told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.” 

“We have already started. We have a lawsuit against Google that focuses some of the very issues about their dominance, about how they abuse consumers, about how they take their private information, they don’t pay these consumers and they then use that information to make billions of dollars without the consumer really knowing how their private information is going to be used.

“So yes, I think you’re going to see more from my state in the coming months and coming years because if we don’t do something now, it’s maybe too late and these companies will have such dominance and so much money.”

Paxton took the lead in filing that multistate lawsuit against Google, alleging that the technology behemoth had violated multiple federal and state antitrust and consumer protection laws. The lawsuit accused Google of engaging in false, misleading, and deceptive acts while the company was selling, buying, and auctioning online-display ads.

Trump and his Justice Department repeatedly urged Congress to roll back liability protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for companies that have engaged in censoring or political conduct. They have accused the companies of acting as publishers rather than online platforms when they engage in targeted moderation of user content. Protections under Section 230 aren’t intended to be used to protect publishers.

Meanwhile, the campaign to remove Section 230 protections have received pushback from technology groups.