A proposal to punish social media platforms for deleting content for political or religious reasons made its way to Utah this week, peddled by a controversial, anti-gay activist who says he’s lobbying states to quash online censorship.
“We really hope that you guys will enact this bill,” said Sevier, who was introduced as in-house counsel for a group called Special Forces of Liberty. “We think it will promote a lot of human flourishing and fairness.”
The legislation as described by Sevier would empower a social media user to sue if the platform deletes or suppresses one of their posts for political or religious reasons. The social media company could be on the hook for $75,000 in statutory damages, in addition to other forms of relief, he explained.
But several representatives of internet and tech companies spoke against the bill, which they said would place inappropriate restrictions on social media platforms and make it difficult to remove objectionable content. In a phone interview after the hearing ended, Hawkins said he’d decided not to move forward with the bill because his colleagues seemed concerned about it and because Sevier “doesn’t have the best reputation.”
“I don’t want to pick a loser right off the bat,” the Pleasant Grove Republican said of the censorship proposal. “And that’s what it would be with the kind of appetite I got from members of the interim committee.”
Hawkins said a Utah resident brought the drafted censorship bill to his attention and that he wasn’t aware of Sevier’s efforts to marry his computer until after the Judiciary Interim Committee hearing.
Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice, a group that promotes free online expression, said the legislation would run afoul of the First Amendment, constrain social media moderators and go against free market principles cherished by conservatives.
“Not only is this an unnecessary bill, it comes with a panoply of unintended consequences,” said Szabo, who identified himself as a conservative. “And for that reason — and the same reason why every other state who’s considered this bill has not moved forward on it — we ask you not to advance this legislation.”
On the other hand, Sevier argued his bill would protect free discourse while still leaving social media companies at liberty to purge their platforms of pornographic content, calls to violence and posts from fake accounts.
“The state of Utah has a compelling interest to protect the speech of people of all different religions,” he said, raising his voice as he spoke to lawmakers. “The other side doesn’t have a fundamental right to falsely induce people to sign up to use their platforms only to turn around to bully them and punish them because the employees of that company have a different world view.”
However, Pew also showed that these concerns are far more pronounced among Republicans, with about nine in 10 saying they believe social media companies likely censor political viewpoints. By comparison, only about 59% of Democrats expressed this viewpoint.
“Right now, conservative voices are more prominent because of social media. Online platforms offer the most open and accessible form of communication for all Americans,” Feliciano said. “The platforms do not have a political ideology. It would make no business sense for companies to stifle half of their users.”
Man who claimed he married a laptop pitches social media censorship bill to Utah lawmakers /p>