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Gov. Greg Abbott backs bill to stop social media companies from banning Texans for political views

Gov. Abbott
Posted at 1:01 PM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-05 14:04:04-05

Decrying “a dangerous movement” to “silence conservative ideas [and] religious beliefs,” Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday touted a bill that aims to crack down on perceived censorship of conservative voices by social media companies.

“They are controlling the flow of information — and sometimes denying the flow of information,” Abbott said at a press conference in Tyler. “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. We’re not going to allow it in the Lone Star State."

Abbott was joined by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who is sponsoring the measure and chairs the powerful Senate State Affairs Committee.

Senate Bill 12 would prohibit social media companies — including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from blocking, banning, demonetizing, or otherwise discriminating against a user based on their viewpoint or their location within Texas.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has identified the bill as one of his top 31 priorities for the 2021 legislatives session.

Conservative anger at social media companies has reached heightened levels in recent months, especially after companies banned former President Donald Trump from their platforms and dumped conspiracy peddling accounts after supporters of Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were certifying Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election.

Much of the Texas GOP’s post-siege rhetoric depicts the technology and social media companies’ moves as the “censorship of conservatives,” even though the actions were in response to credible evidence that communications were inciting violence. And legal experts agree that these tech companies are exercising their full legal rights to moderate anything on their platforms.

Experts point out that the First Amendment — which protects free speech — only prohibits government censorship. That leaves private companies to choose their own protocols.

“From a First Amendment perspective, social media companies are private actors and aren't subject to the First Amendment,” said Scot Powe, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told The Texas Tribune in January. “So it's a matter of constitutional law. They can be as biased as they want in any direction they choose.”

Disclosure: Facebook and the University of Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/03/05/texas-greg-abbott-press-conference-social-media/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.