Texas Legislature Sees Florida's Social Media Bill Go Down In Unconstitutional Flames; Decides 'We Can Do That Too!'
from the seriously,-guys? dept
The Republican grievance culture wars about the internet are never ending. The Grand Old Party — which once presented itself as believing in private property rights, keeping government out of business, and mocking “snowflakes” for playing victim all the time — has shown its true colors as being for everything it previously insisted it was against. As we noted earlier this year, a bunch of states with Republican controlled legislatures and governors have been proposing blatantly unconstitutional bills to try to prevent social media companies from moderating disinformation and propaganda. Utah was the first state to pass such a bill, but Governor Spencer Cox wisely vetoed it, noting the Constitutional concerns.
Next out of the gate was Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis chose poorly, signing the bill that was thrown out last week for being blatantly unconstitutional under basically any standard of review. As we’ve noted, this is all performative nonsense, playing to a base that wants to insist it’s the aggrieved victims, because sometimes when they violate a website’s policies, they face consequences.
Incredibly, though not surprisingly, Texas legislators have looked at Florida’s giant constitutional mess of wasted taxpayer funds and said, “yeah, let’s do that!” Earlier this year, Texas proposed another awful social media content moderation bill, but the legislative session ended without it being voted on. Rather than move on to dealing with actual problems, Texas launched a special legislative session with a long list of culture war grievances — including the social media bill.
And so the bill has be re-introduced and it’s arguably even more blatantly unconstitutional than the Florida bill. Most of the first part of the bill is just creating a ton of silly and wasteful compliance paperwork — requiring social media websites to do a lot more to actually moderate content on their site, including having someone people can call, having an official appeals process, and explaining to people in exact terms why they were moderated (this gambit is a favorite of trolls and assholes, who want this information solely to disingenuously insist that they didn’t break the rules, or to insist that others who broke similar rules were treated differently, usually by removing any and all context from those decisions).
But then the bill veers into even more ridiculous territory. First, it defines “censorship” to mean things that are clearly not censorship. Even if you disagree with the basic premise that moderation is not censorship, the Texas bill defines “censorship” so broadly to make the term meaningless:
“Censor” means to block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression.
De-monetizing is censorship? De-boosting is censorship? In what world? I mean, Fox News refuses to put me on the air to express my views about their propaganda. Is that censorship? The bill does exempt news organizations, but still. Under this bill, it seems that search ranking is censorship. After all, whoever is ranked below the top spot has been “de-boosted” and not provided “equal access or visibility.” I can’t wait until I can sue Google for not putting Techdirt at the top of every search!
The bill then tries to prohibit its definition of “censorship” for viewpoints.
CENSORSHIP PROHIBITED. (a) A social media platform may not censor a user, a user ?s expression, or a user ?s ability to receive the expression of another person based on:
(1) the viewpoint of the user or another person;
(2) the viewpoint represented in the user?s expression or another person?s expression; or
(3) a user?s geographic location in this state or any part of this state.
So, you cannot ban Nazis any more. Or bigots spewing hatred. Sounds great, Texas. I mean… actually, sounds totally blatantly unconstitutional, and a clear waste of Texas taxpayers money, as you will have to go to Court and defend this law that will easily be tossed out as unconstitutional. But, who cares about that when there’s a culture war to fight, and an opportunity to whine about how you’re the victim again?