Stepping Up: 28 States Take on Big Tech; 20 Move to Prohibit or Discourage Censorship

Congress has remained locked in a stalemate over how to tackle Big Tech tyranny. Meanwhile, state governments have stepped up and decided to take matters into their own hands where the federal government has failed.

The partisan gridlock in Congress grew more apparent as Republicans and Democrats clashed with Big Tech executives —  and with each other —  in a March 25 hearing. Twenty-eight states have introduced or passed legislation to take on Big Tech in some capacity. Seventeen of those  states  have proposed bills that would prohibit or discourage censorship in some way. None of those bills has passed into law as yet. Every state except for Georgia and South Carolina has joined antitrust lawsuits against Big Tech.

Some states are taking action in different ways as well. Three states have considered legislation to allow developers to circumvent app store fees, five states have considered taxes on online ad revenue, and another three states have considered changes to data privacy laws. Nebraska state Senator Curt Friesen (R) bashed Big Tech companies that are “answerable only to their shareholders” and provide “zero due process or accountability.”

However, state legislatures were not the only ones fed up with Big Tech. State attorneys general have stepped up as well. Forty-five states and territories have filed antitrust complaints against Google across two different lawsuits. A coalition of 48 states and territories have filed an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook. “These companies are extremely powerful, extremely wealthy,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a call with MRC. “Unless we start addressing this very soon, we may lose our opportunity to address some of the wrongs.”

The majority of the states that have proposed banning or discouraging censorship are Republican-led. Many of the pieces of legislation were also introduced following former President Donald Trump’s suspension from several Big Tech platforms.

20 State Bills to Prohibit or Discourage Censorship

Alabama

HB 213, sponsored by 11 representatives, withdraws state tax abatements and economic incentives from platforms that censor speech. It would also adopt procedures to review complaints pertaining to violations of this bill.   

Arkansas

The Unfair Social Media Censorship Act aims to curb censorship by making Big Tech companies liable for unspecified damages if they censor an Arkansas user. 

Florida

HB 7013 would prohibit platforms from deplatforming candidates and would impose a fine of $100,000 per day for statewide candidates and $10,000 per day for other candidates for doing so.

Iowa

The Iowa legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit blocking “the ability of a user to create, view, comment, or otherwise interact with content that constitutes constitutionally protected speech on the dominant social media company’s social networking website.” It would impose up to a $100,000 fine. 
The Iowa Senate passed a bill that could remove tax incentives from companies that censor content.   

Louisiana

State Rep. Lance Harris introduced a bill that would prohibit censorship based on a user’s “race, gender, political ideology, or religious beliefs.” Users who were censored online, or users who “reasonably otherwise would have received or viewed another user’s content” had that content not been censored, could receive relief under the bill. Companies would be fined $50,000 per violation under the bill. 

Mississippi

HB 151 died in committee, but would have defined social media censorship. It would have let users sue platforms for censoring speech, or using algorithms to suppress it.

Missouri

HB 482 introduced by Rep. Jeff Coleman (R) would prohibit social media from censoring political or religious content and would allow injured parties to seek a minimum of $75,000 in damages for censored speech found not to be obscene, an incitement of violence or a false identity. Hate speech would not be a justifiable basis for censorship.

Montana

HB 587, introduced by Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway (R) opens up social media platforms to legal liability for restricting, censoring or suppressing information that is not lewd or obscene.     

Nebraska

The state has proposed a bill that would impose fines for censorship on social media. The bill holds big tech companies to the same standard as the First Amendment. 

North Dakota

HB No. 1144, sponsored by six representatives, would allow a person who was censored or who would have received the censored speech to seek civil damages, including treble damages for compensatory, consequential, and incidental damages from Big Tech companies. The exact damages were not specified. 

Oklahoma

SB 1019, introduced by state Sen. Nathan Dahm (R) and state Rep. Jay Steagall (R), would fine companies $10,000 for every instance of censorship, when removing the content is not required by law. Offenders would also lose any tax break, subsidy, exemption or incentive from the state in that same year.

Rhode Island

Rep. Patricia L. Morgan (R) introduced H5099 condemning major tech companies (Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Google, Snapchat and YouTube) for attacks on First Amendment rights.

South Carolina

SB 551, sponsored by 14 state senators, would force social media platforms to notify users within 10 days if their accounts have been suspended or disabled, and explain the reason why, or face fines or civil claims.

South Dakota

State Rep. Phil Jensen (R) introduced House Bill 1223. The bill would allow users in the state to sue a platform if their religious or political speech is censored or suppressed. Plaintiffs could receive $75,000, including court fees. 

Tennessee

The state senate’s SB 695, and its companion bill in the state house, HB 859, would not allow social media platforms to “include in its contract with a user a provision limiting, authorizing the limitation of, or censoring political or religious speech.” The bills also specify that a court may award “treble compensatory, consequential, and incidental damages” if a user’s content is censored online.
SB 1218 and HB 1253 would require that state agencies no longer use social media networks if that platform engages in censorship. 
SB 1219 and HB 1370 would prohibit “The act of a technology corporation by banning or censoring political candidates or users from the use of a social media platform,” if the speech “is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” 

Texas

Eight Texas state senators introduced SB 12, which would prohibit censorship of “a user, a user’s expression, or a user’s ability to receive the expression of another person.” A user who successfully asserts a claim against a social media company is entitled to recover declaratory relief, including costs and attorney’s fees, and injunctive relief.

Utah

SB 228, sponsored by state Sen. Michael K. McKell (R) and state Rep. Brady Brammer (R), would force platforms to notify users if content is censored and provide a formal appeals process with an independent review board. It would also require platforms to release an annual list of moderation practices.

Washington

The Seattle Municipal Code currently prohibits discrimination based upon “political ideology.”

West Virginia

HR 6 calls for Congress to condemn political censorship, and apply its legislative powers to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Wyoming

SF0100 would prohibit viewpoint discrimination by social media platforms, interactive computer services and businesses. The bill also seeks to provide remedies for violations of such discrimination.

Three State Proposals to Circumvent App Store Fees

Arizona

The Arizona House passed a bill to let tech companies circumvent the 15-30 percent fee they must pay Apple or Google.

Minnesota

HF1184, sponsored by state Reps. Zack Stephenson (D) and Dan Wolgamott (D), would allow app developers to use alternative app stores or payment systems than, for example, Apple or Google. Agreements that violate the bill would be “void and unenforceable.”

North Dakota

SB No. 2333 failed, but would not have allowed app distribution platforms, like Apple or Google, to require a percentage of every sale. 

Five State Proposals to Tax Ad Revenue 

Connecticut

Connecticut House Bill No. 5645, introduced by Rep. Holly Cheeseman (R), would tax ad revenue from social media companies. The tax percentage is not specified in the bill. These funds will be used for suicide prevention and anti-bullying initiatives.

Indiana

The deadline for action on Indiana HB 1312 has already expired, but it would have imposed an ad tax for social media companies of 7 percent, plus $1 for every Indiana user. The state would have used the funds for suicide prevention and anti-bullying initiatives.

Maryland

The state passed a tax on digital ad revenue. It’s a 2.5 percent tax on companies that make at least $100 million a year in global revenue but no more than $1 billion a year, and a 10 percent tax on companies that make more than $15 billion in a year.

Oregon

HB 2392, introduced by Rep. Pam Marsh (D), would impose a 5 percent ad revenue tax on social media companies.

Washington

House Bill 1303 would impose a tax of 1.8 percent on a social media platform’s income from the “sales of personal data.” 

Three State Proposals for Data Privacy Reform

Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a bill that would provide users greater control of their personal data, and give users the ability to see this information if desired. Unintentional violations of the proposed bill may result in up to a $2,500 fine, or $7,500 for intentional violations.

New York

The New York Privacy Act would “address how online platform/social media firms process personal data.” The bill was put on hold due to COVID-19, but could make a comeback, according to Protocol.

Virginia

Virginia Senate Bill No. 1392, sponsored by three state senators and two delegates, would give consumers more agency over their personal data, and let them see their data if desired.

Conservatives are under attack. Contact your representatives and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment while providing transparency, clarity on “hate speech” and equal footing for conservatives. If you have been censored, contact us at the Media Research Center contact form, and help us hold Big Tech accountable.

 

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