Texas is trying to regulate social media companies

in September 13th, 2021
texas-hb-20

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It’s now illegal for social media companies to ban Texan users based on their political views — well, sort of. While the state’s governor signed the bill last week, it faces many legal challenges ahead of being enacted this December. Specifically, bill HB 20 seeks to:

  • Prohibit social media companies with over 50 million users from banning users based on their political viewpoint. For example, Trump would not have been banned from Twitter last year under such a law if Trump were a Texan.
  • Increase transparency by requiring companies like Facebook or Twitter to disclose how they regulate content and make acceptable use policies easy to understand.
  • Produce regular reports on what content is removed and give censored users a way to seek recourse. For example, giving banned Instagram users a way to get their accounts back.

This Texas legislation comes just months after Florida passed a law penalizing social media firms for deplatforming politicians. While it attempted to fine as much as $250,000 per day a politician is banned, the bill was later suspended by a federal judge who ruled that it violated the right to free speech.

That same argument is now being used by critics of the Texas bill, who say it doesn’t respect the constitutional right of private businesses to decide what content is or isn’t allowed on their platforms. And since both Texas and Florida are heavily conservative states, some believe these laws are in response to rising dissatisfaction with Facebook, Twitter, and others censoring conservative views.

Both efforts come on the tails of a global conversation around how social media companies should or should not be regulated. As the U.S. debates having a federal agency dedicated to the job, around the world…

  • U.K. regulators have pushed forward proposals that would provide legal certainty and guidelines for tech giants to remove harmful content — or be fined.
  • India established their own Intermediary Liability Rules, which requires social media companies with over five million users while operating in India to establish local offices with senior officials to deal with user issues and grievances.
  • And Australia enacted a law in 2019 that punishes social media companies (with fines of up to 10% of profits) for not removing abhorrent violent content ASAP.

Resource Center:

  • The Verge (Where we found this story) 4 days old | 4 minutes long
  • Texas Tribune Details of what the law entails 1 week old  | 4 minutes long
  • BBC Florida attempts to fine social media companies  4 months old | 4 minutes long
  • Below the Fold Global efforts to regulate social media companies 6 months old | 2 minutes long
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Why is that bird so loud?

Texas lets him tweet whatever he wants!

Art Credit: Joan G. Stark

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