The Texas Senate on Tuesday gave initial approval to a measure that would prohibit social media companies with at least 100 million monthly users from blocking, banning, demonetizing, or discriminating against a user based on their viewpoint or their location within Texas.
Senate Bill 12, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, was approved on second reading by a vote of 18-13. The measure, which would apply to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube among others, would also require the companies to disclose their content moderation policies, publish regular reports about the content they remove and create an appeals process for user content that has been taken down.
Experts have raised doubts about the legality of the measure. Hughes acknowledged that, if signed into law, SB 12 would almost certainly be challenged in court. He repeatedly referred to social media platforms as common carriers, though they have never been classified as such by law or in the court system. Common carriers, such as phone companies and cable providers, are private or public companies that transport goods or people and are barred by government regulators from discriminating against customers.
“Even though they’re private actors, because they are common carriers, because they chose to enter this business and offer their services, then they are bound by certain rules,” Hughes said.
Facebook, Twitter and Google, which owns YouTube, did not respond to requests for comment. In remarks before Congress last week, company executives denied removing content or blocking users based on their viewpoints.
The bill will require one more vote from the Senate, an action that is usually just a formality after it is passed on second reading. Then it will head to the House, where two identical bills have been filed but so far have not moved forward in the State Affairs Committee.
During Tuesday’s debate on the bill, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, pointed out that while Facebook and Twitter would be included under the measure, websites such as Parler and Gab, which are popular among conservatives, would be left out because they have fewer than 100 million monthly users. He proposed an amendment that would have lowered the threshold to 25 million monthly users, but it was voted down by a vote of 21-10.
Hughes stressed that the measure seeks to protect all viewpoints. But at a press conference earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his support for the measure and chided social media companies for leading a “dangerous movement” to “silence conservative ideas [and] religious beliefs.”