Senate Bill 12 would prohibit social media companies — including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from blocking, banning, demonetizing or otherwise discriminating against a user based on their viewpoint or their location within Texas.
Decrying “a dangerous movement” to “silence conservative ideas [and] religious beliefs,” Gov. Greg Abbott touted a bill Friday that aims to crack down on the perceived censorship of conservative voices by social media companies.
“They are controlling the flow of information — and sometimes denying the flow of information,” the Republican governor said at a press conference in Tyler. “And they are being in the position where they’re choosing which viewpoints are going to be allowed to be presented. Texas is taking a stand against big tech political censorship. We’re not going to allow it in the Lone Star State.”
Abbott was joined by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who is sponsoring the measure and who chairs the powerful Senate State Affairs Committee. Hughes said the bill would give Texans the right to restore their accounts when they’re “mistreated.”
“We have a handful of billionaires in San Francisco that run these tech companies,” Hughes said. “It doesn’t make them the gatekeeper of free speech. But that’s what they want to be.”
Senate Bill 12 would prohibit social media companies — including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from blocking, banning, demonetizing, or otherwise discriminating against a user based on their viewpoint or their location within Texas.
It would apply to anyone who lives in, does business in or has social media followers in Texas. Under the proposal, a person who feels they’ve been wrongly barred from a platform can file a claim in court. The Texas attorney general can also bring a claim on a person’s behalf. If a social media company fails to comply, the bill stipulates that the court can impose “daily penalties sufficient to secure immediate compliance.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, has identified the bill as one of his 31 priorities for this legislative session. Hughes filed a similar bill in 2019 that won Senate approval, but died in committee in the state House.
Facebook and Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.
TechNet, an industry association, said removing content restrictions could open the way for children to be exposed to “harmful content of ill-intended users online.”
“This bill not only recklessly encourages companies to leave objectionable content in the public eye, but also creates a culture that supports frivolous lawsuits against American companies,” said Servando Esparza, the group’s executive director of Texas and the Southwest, in a statement.
Hughes said that his legislation would only apply to political and religious speech.
“We’re not talking about lewd, lascivious obscenity or anything like that,” Hughes said.
The rhetoric about silencing conservatives ramped up following the 2020 election, when platforms including Facebook and Twitter removed former President Donald Trump’s account for inciting violence during the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Republican politicians have long targeted technology giants — accusing them of an anti-conservative bias and for silencing free speech, even though the actions to ban members were often in response to credible evidence that communications were inciting violence.
Experts point out that the First Amendment — which protects free speech — only prohibits government censorship. That leaves private companies to choose their own protocols.
Photo: Gov. Greg Abbott spoke at a press conference in Austin on Dec. 17. Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune