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Texas Republicans pass law to fight back against “censorship” on social media

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A bill that would forbid Blocking large social media companies from blocking users based on their views or location will be directed to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk, who is expected to enforce the measure.

House Bill 20, passed in the lower chamber on Thursday, is a priority for Republicans who have accused Facebook, Twitter and other platforms of censoring or silencing conservatives – including former President Donald Trump. You have been pointing out Twitter’s decision in recent weeks to allow the Taliban to post on the site while Trump remains banned for inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol in January with false claims that he was the 2020 election was stolen.

According to the new state law, social media companies with more than 50 million monthly active users are prohibited from blocking or blocking users based on their point of view. You can also choose not to remove content or “Deny equal access or visibility” based on a user’s point of view.

An earlier version of the bill would also have prevented companies from adding an addendum to a post, as Twitter did on some of Trump’s tweets last year, but that language was removed in a last-minute change.

Social media companies have defended their approach, arguing that they are trying to tackle misinformation – especially about the 2020 elections – and incendiary posts that could provoke violence. The companies have also come under fire from liberals who say they are allowing misinformation to circulate freely and are still not doing enough to address the problem.

The bill also provides a mechanism for users or the Texas Attorney General to sue social media platforms believed to be violating a provision of the law and obtain a court order to restore the account or post .

House Bill 20 is almost certain to face legal opposition from industry groups that challenged a similar law passed in Florida earlier this year. A federal judge temporarily overturned the law in June, ruling that the measure violated the First Amendment rights of social media companies.

Democrats in both houses of the Texas Legislature opposed Bill 20, arguing that it would prevent social media companies from removing content they believe is harmful.

Republicans noted that the bill allows social media platforms to remove content that “directly incites criminal activity or consists of specific threats of violence” targeting an individual or group based on their “race, color, disability, religion , national origin or ancestry, age, gender or status as a peace officer or judge. “

Corporations can also remove content that meets the standards of “illegal expression” in the United States and Texas constitution, or under federal or state law.

Republicans opposed Democratic amendments that would have allowed social media platforms to block content that “includes Holocaust denial” or “vaccine disinformation” or promotes terrorist groups and acts.

Bill’s author, Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, has been suspended from Twitter for six months because of an exchange with Democrat Beto O’Rourke, spurred on by the former congressman’s comment during a 2019 presidential debate in Houston.

“Damn it, we’ll take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said as he discussed his plan for a mandatory assault weapon buyback program.

Cain replied on Twitter, “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis.”

If Abbott puts the bill into effect, it will come into effect three months after the legislature ends.

The bill passed the legislature mainly along the party lines, although Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, joined the Senate Democrats to vote against.

Two Republicans – State MPs Giovanni Capriglione from Southlake and Charlie Geren from Fort Worth – voted against the law in the House of Representatives on Thursday. Two other Republicans – MPs Dan Huberty from Houston and Lyle Larson from San Antonio – also opposed the measure in an earlier vote.

An earlier version of the bill was approved by the Senate but died in the House of Representatives that spring.

jasper.scherer@chron.com

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