Texas has made it illegal for big social media companies to ban users based on their political viewpoints.
The Texas House voted 78-42 on Thursday to back an amended version of House Bill 20, which the Senate passed in a 17-14 vote Tuesday. The legislation, now on its way to the governor’s desk, would require social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube — those with more than 50 million monthly users in the U.S. — to produce regular reports of removed content, create a complaint system and disclose their content regulation procedures. (Update, Sept. 10: The governor signed HB 20 into law on Sept. 9.)
Similar legislation was considered during the regular legislative session earlier this year and was championed by Gov. Greg Abbott, who said that social media companies were part of a dangerous movement to “silence conservative ideas [and] religious beliefs.”
Proponents of HB 20 say it would prohibit social media companies’ ability to silence viewpoints on their platforms and allow users who were wrongly censored to seek recourse.
State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, who authored HB 20, says such companies are best classified as common carriers, like phone companies and cable providers, that are barred by government regulators from discriminating against customers.
“At this point, a small handful of social media sites drive the national narrative and have massive influence over the progress and developments of medicine and science, social justice movements, election outcomes and public thought,” Cain said when he initially presented HB 20 on the House floor.
The platforms would have to publicly disclose their content information and make it easily accessible on their website. They would also have to publish an acceptable use policy and complaint system in a location easily accessible to a user. The complaint system will allow users to raise flags about any illegal content, activity or removed content and would require the companies to keep those on file for future reports.
Critics have raised suspicions about the legality of the bill. During the House debate, state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said HB 20 raises serious First Amendment concerns.
“How will a government not use this slippery slope to mandate how other companies and what they can or cannot allow their customers to say or to do, conducting private transactions,” Capriglione said.
The Texas Senate approved Senate Bill 12, a similar bill, in late March. However, SB 12 was for social media platforms with at least 100 million monthly users. HB 20 set a limit of 50 million monthly users.
The bill would not restrict social media platforms from removing “offensively violent material” or penalize companies for blocking criminal activity or threatened violence. It would also allow the removal of content to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.