By a vote of 77 to 49 on Monday, the Texas House passed House Bill (HB) 20 upon third reading of the bill, and it proceeded to pass the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee in a bipartisan vote of seven to two. Senator Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) joined his GOP colleagues in support of the bill.
In his closing remarks on the House floor, bill author Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) said, “When much of the public conversation is muted, both sides suffer.”
The bill defines “censor” as “any action taken to edit, alter, block, ban, delete, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, regulate, restrict, inhibit, inhibit the publication or reproduction of, or deny equal access or visibility to expression, to suspend a right to post, remove, or post an addendum to any content or material posted by a user, or to otherwise discriminate against expression.”
The proposed law would make it illegal for social media companies with more than 50 million users to censor content based on the viewpoint of the content or the geographic location of the user.
Cain argued that larger platforms constitute a “public square,” and the legislative findings portion of the bill calls large social media companies “common carriers” that have “enjoyed governmental support in the United States.”
In addition, the bill requires a “biannual transparency report,” other disclosure requirements, and mandates a structured appeal system when content is removed.
On the floor of the Texas House on Friday, Cain and Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) debated whether the bill would be similar to a Florida law that a federal judge ruled was unconstitutional. Cain indicated that the bill was “intentionally” written differently than the Florida law with that court case in mind.
Opponents of laws against social media censorship contend that social media companies are private entities and have the right to make their own rules. One lawmaker, Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville), even proposed an unsuccessful amendment to create a state-owned social media platform, suggesting that it made more sense than regulating private companies.
In the House, there were both Republicans and Democrats in opposition. Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) suggested the bill would “stifle the free market” and said it is “nonsensical on its face” that social media applications, which are usually free-of-charge to users, are common carriers.
Reps. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), Dan Huberty (R-Houston), and Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) joined Capriglione in voting against the bill.
Others have accused social media platforms of labeling legitimate viewpoints as “misinformation” and selectively applying their own rules.
When Twitter banned Trump, the company cited “the risk of further incitement of violence” as part of the basis for its decision. Meanwhile, the Taliban, which have overthrown the government of Afghanistan and are reportedly carrying out public, extrajudicial executions, are still allowed to use the platform.
Though the bill was widely opposed by Democrats, many in the party were absent from the vote as they continue to protest the Election Integrity Protection Act of 2021.
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Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.