States move to hold Big Tech accountable for violating free speech

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U.S. states are now moving to quickly rein in abuses by Big Tech. Spurred by various motivations, such as fighting censorship, increasing data privacy protection or simply raising revenue by punishing cash-flush companies that have grown rich through their dominant market positions, these states are now looking to take on Big Tech.

Texas, Nebraska and Florida are all working on legislation that would limit social media companies’ abilities to moderate content based on political views. Florida, in particular, would penalize social media companies that deplatform candidates during an election.

States look to keep Big Tech in check

In the face of Big Tech companies seeming moves to suppress conservative voices, Texas state Sen. Bryan Hughes has worked with Gov. Greg Abott and other state legislators to reintroduce a bill that prevents companies from moderating user content based on political viewpoints.

“We filed a bill about this during the last session two years ago, it passed the Senate did not make it through the House,” Hughes said in an interview with WFAA’s “Inside Texas Politics’ on Sunday, Feb. 7. “So the bill we’re getting ready to file will say that if a company discriminates against you, deplatforms you, blocks you, kicks you off based on your viewpoint, based on your politics, your religion, based on viewpoint discrimination, it will give you a way to get back online.”

Hughes explained that the previous bill looked at different options for how users could bring discrimination lawsuits against big tech companies.

“What we would like to do is to give any Texan who’s being discriminated against, the option to bring an action and we think that will get Facebook’s attention, get Twitter’s attention, and cause them to start treating Texans fairly,” Hughes added.

The Texas bill follows a Florida proposal that directly penalizes Big Tech companies that deplatform a candidate during an election. The new bill would fine companies $100,000 a day until the candidate’s access to the platform is restored.

The Florida bill also targets companies that promote certain political candidates, requiring the former to record such endorsements as political campaign contributions at the state’s election commission.

Nebraska has also recently introduced legislation that seeks to fine social media platforms. Introduced by state Sen. Curt Friesen, the new bill is similar to the Florida bill in that it would impose fines on social media companies caught violating Nebraska user’s free speech rights.

“They arbitrarily decide what’s fit for their platform or not,” Friesen told the Omaha World-Herald. “I don’t think they’ve applied it fairly across the board.”

Senators in Capitol Hill also looking to hold Big Tech accountable

As states move to keep big tech in check, some Democratic Senators in Capitol Hill are looking to do the same.

Sens. Mark Warner, a former Virginia tech entrepreneur; Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have recently introduced a bill targetting Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA). The latter is the provision of the CDA that shields social media companies from liability in relation to content posted on their platforms by third parties.

Called the Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms Act (SAFE TECH Act), the bill would end Section 230 protections for ads or paid content. It would allow victims to seek court orders that would allow Big Tech to be sued in some situations where they’re currently immune from litigation.

“How [Big Tech companies] operate has a real-life effect on the safety and civil rights of Americans and people around the world, as well as our democracy,” Klobuchar stated. “Holding these platforms accountable for ads and content that can lead to real-world harm is critical, and this legislation will do just that.”

“Section 230 has provided a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card to the largest platform companies even as their sites are used by scam artists, harassers, and violent extremists to cause damage and injury,” added Warner in a statement.

But the bill stops short of repealing Section 230 altogether as some critics, including both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, have called for in the past.

Follow for more on the latest moves to rein in the power that these companies hold.

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