Texas and Florida’s recent push for legislation against social media censorship of conservatives underlies a growing concern in the U.S. that big tech companies are putting their own political interests above their consumers.
According to a Pew Research Center poll published on Aug. 19, 2020, “three-quarters of U.S. adults believe that it is very (37%) or somewhat (36%) likely that social media sites intentionally censor political viewpoints that they find objectionable.” This general consensus is seemingly validated by the legislative actions of governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott against big tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter.
Amid these concerns, both platforms have taken recent steps to increase online censorship of what they deem a violation of their content policies. While Facebook has begun “clamping down on hate” and “increasing penalties for users who repeatedly share misinformation,” Twitter rolled out its Birdwatch feature in June, which allows users to flag any post they find inaccurate and attach “notes” to the post.
The most recent of the two bills to have been passed into law is House Bill 20 on Sept. 9, which “protects Texans from wrongful censorship on social media platforms.” Specifically, the bill was targeted against companies with “more than 50 million monthly users,” requiring them to submit regular reports of their moderation policies and how the platforms are actively managing their content. Further, social media sites are now mandated to “implement a complaint and appeals process for content they remove, providing a reason for the removal and a review of their decision.”
“Social media sites have become our modern-day public square,” said Abbott upon signing House Bill 20 into law. “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. That is wrong, and we will not allow it in Texas.”
While it was unclear what examples of censorship Abbott was referring to during his official statement, an earlier Tweet from May 5 on the topic of the anti-censorship senate bill cited the ban of social media accounts belonging to former President Donald Trump and “everyday citizens.” A poll from the Pew Research Center, released on the same day, revealed that nearly half of a group of surveyed U.S. adults believe that Twitter’s decision to ban Trump was a mistake.
In addition, a survey from Hill-HarrisX from February suggested that a majority of American voters (54%) believe that the ban on the former president should be lifted. As evident in the survey data, Abbott’s push for anti-censorship legislation is currently backed by a significant portion of Americans who believe that the social media block was the wrong move.
DeSantis similarly signed Senate Bill 7072 on May 24 to “hold Big Tech accountable” and protect the rights of Florida residents to join and participate in social media platforms. The bill included the rights to sue major tech companies and impose fines if they illegally censor political viewpoints, which would have taken effect immediately if it had not been blocked by the U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who deemed it unconstitutional by violating “social media companies’ First Amendment rights.”
To support his reasoning behind the bill, DeSantis cited Twitter’s controversial decision to “[deplatform] the President of the United States” while they let “Ayatollah Khomeini,” former Supreme Leader of Iran, “talk about killing Jews.” To date, Khomeini’s Twitter page remains active and has not been removed, despite posting antisemitic comments such as calling for Israel to be “uprooted and destroyed.”
Similar to his Texas counterpart, DeSantis’ reasoning aligns with the concerns of Americans who believe that social media companies should be shifting their priority from censoring conservative viewpoints to disabling the accounts of individuals who are associated with radical and extremist ideologies.
In a survey conducted by the Morning Consult/Politico on Aug. 26, it was found that three in five American voters (62%) believe that the Taliban should be banned from social media. Despite this, the terrorist group continues to have an ongoing online presence. While content related to the Taliban is being actively removed from Facebook, Twitter has allowed them to maintain their account as long as they continue to “abide by the terms of service” and do not advocate violence.
Both pieces of legislation collectively reference a rising concern of the American people that social media sites have too much power in controlling which political viewpoints are allowed to be heard and which should be censored. Until action is taken to hold social media companies accountable by the Biden administration, other local government leaders have no option but to follow in the footsteps of Abbott and DeSantis in the hope for further legislation that promotes free speech for all.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.