This is one of those be careful what you wish for moments — something that often fails politicians. The latest case of this is a bill authored by Texas state Sen. Bryan Hughes allowing Texans, but mostly conservatives, to file suit against social media platforms for censorship.
The legislation, which has the backing of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, raises so many questions about potential exposure and liability to publishers and individuals that we had to believe it was drafted on the back of a napkin, because it makes no sense.
Not only is it a legislative waste of time but the unintended consequences are significant. Of course, much of this stems from decisions by Twitter and Facebook to suspend the accounts of former President Donald Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. If we live by our creed in Texas, the notion of telling private companies what to do seems a little bit strange, but this is Abbott and Patrick’s ball game.
And, oh by the way, Attorney General Ken Paxton is also investigating Twitter about its decision to suspend Trump’s account, which is another example of the attorney general wasting time and taxpayer dollars.
Here’s some simple advice for those who want the ability to sue a private company because we’re not allowed to do something in their establishment — don’t use that business if you don’t like the rules.
However, since Abbott, Patrick and Hughes are determined to press their cases, here is some of what the bill says:
An interactive computer service may not censor a user, a user’s expression, or a user’s ability to receive the expression of another person based on:
• The viewpoint of the user or another person.
• The viewpoint represented in the user’s expression or another person’s expression.
• A user’s geographic location in this state or any part of this state.
• This section applies regardless of whether the viewpoint is expressed on the interactive computer service or elsewhere.
The intent, of course, is to answer complaints made by conservatives against social media platforms, especially Twitter. However, Abbott, Hughes, Patrick and Paxton have never been blocked by the platforms. So, does that mean that conservative-leaning Twitter-alternative Parler is going to have to allow leftist-thinking on its channel?
In his bill, Hughes aims to define “Interactive computer service” an information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a server, including a service, system, website, web application, or web portal that provides a social media platform for users to engage in expressive activity.
Of course, constitutionalist originalist thinkers like Abbott, Patrick and others fail to remember the First Amendment doesn’t say private companies can’t censor speech or try to rein in bad behavior — it’s aimed at the government not limiting an individuals right to free speech.
Make no mistake, the founders were really smart but they probably didn’t see the rise of social media back in the 18th Century, but they certainly saw the dangers of stuff like this — stay out of it.
That essentially opens the list of exposure to any business that allows interaction, including newspaper websites, along with those hosted by television and radio stations, where audience engagement is encouraged. Facebook, for instance, also grants publisher the right to block, hide or just delete comments from their pages that run afoul of the standards of that publisher when it comes to discourse.
For years, newspapers have had practices in place around what can be submitted from readers, which in turn is often shared online?
Sometimes the writers want to post racist, violent or other forms of questionable claims, but does this mean we have to publish all voices?
We expect that this would actually put a chill on discourse because of the ease of filing suit the bill offers to those who are offended that they can’t say whatever they want on a private space.
This bill is so poorly thought out and reactionary that it needs to be shelved — forever. The best advice is if you don’t like something, don’t use it.