The Texas Senate gave final approval Thursday to a bill that would let the state attorney general sue social media platforms, such as FaceBook and Twitter, over allegations of blocking users or removing posts based on their content.
Senate Bill 2373 would apply to social media companies that claim to be impartial and unbiased, and the measure was motivated by complaints of discriminatory treatment by conservatives and conservative groups, said the bill’s author, Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola.
“If you hold yourself out as being an open forum and that you don’t discriminate based on viewpoint, then you have to keep your word,” Hughes told the Senate.
The Senate voted 18-12 to send SB 2373 to the House. All Republicans but Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, supported the bill. Democrats were united against it, with Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville absent.
The bill was amended Wednesday, when the Senate conducted its initial vote on the measure, to specify that only the Texas attorney general could sue a social media platform over alleged violations. Those lawsuits could be based on the attorney general’s initiative or in response to complaints made to the agency, Hughes said.
The original bill would have allowed lawsuits by anybody whose communications had been blocked, removed or restricted, raising fears of a deluge of legal challenges.
Under the bill, a social media company could not be penalized for restricting content that it “reasonably considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.”
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said he was concerned that companies could be penalized for removing untrue statements and suggested adding language specifying that blocking “false, fraudulent” content was allowed.
Hughes declined, saying false statements would fall under the bill’s exception protecting action against “otherwise objectionable” posts. The language on exceptions was based on federal law, he said, adding that federal courts have interpreted “otherwise objectionable” as a broad safe harbor for removing false or deceptive posts.