Texas Wants to Ban Facebook and Twitter … From Banning

The state that wants to deregulate everything wants to tell Facebook and Twitter how to run their platforms.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who apparently has nothing else going on, is backing a proposed law in his state that would prohibit companies like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook from banning users based on their “viewpoint,” specifically religious or political speech, or geographic location within Texas. 

The move, which is being replicated in other states, is seen as a state-level broadside against a federal statute that absolves social media companies for responsibility for the content their users post. Former President Donald Trump pushed for ending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act before he left office—and got banned from Twitter—in January.

“They are controlling the flow of information—and sometimes denying the flow of information,” Abbott, who is considering running for a third term next year, said at a Friday press conference. “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,” he added. “Big Tech’s efforts to censor conservative viewpoints is un-American, and we’re not going to allow it in the Lone Star State.”

Similar bills have been introduced in more than a dozen states, according to CBS News, but Texas is farther along than most—a similar bill passed the state Senate in 2019 (but later died in the state House), and it’s not only backed by Abbott but also was listed last month as one of the legislative priorities of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who formally presides over the state Senate. 

Though Republican lawmakers generally claim to take a hands-off approach to the way businesses operate, social media is another thing entirely. Conservatives like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have argued that existing law has resulted in a disproportionate “silencing” of conservatives on platforms like Twitter, but there’s been little evidence to back this up—a report from NYU Stern published last month found the claim that conservatives are silenced on social media is “a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it.”

The federal statute that the Texas proposal targets, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, has been a particular target of Republican ire in the Trump era. The former president signed a toothless executive order last year seeking to “clarify” the law and later threatened to veto the last round of COVID relief if Section 230 wasn’t repealed.

But it’s far from clear that the Texas law, if passed, would actually result in the impact that Abbott and Texas Republicans seek. “From a First Amendment perspective, social media companies are private actors and aren’t subject to the First Amendment,” University of Texas law professor Scot Powe told the Texas Tribune earlier this year. “They can be as biased as they want in any direction they choose.”

Later this month, the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google (which owns YouTube) will speak at a House hearing focusing on misinformation. “For far too long, Big Tech has failed to acknowledge the role they’ve played in fomenting and elevating blatantly false information to its online audiences,” House Energy Committee Chair Frank Pallone and two subcommittee chairs said in their announcement of the hearing.

“Industry self-regulation has failed,” they said. “We must begin the work of changing incentives driving social media companies to allow and even promote misinformation and disinformation.”