House Bill 20, now a law, is likely to be challenged by Facebook, Twitter and Google
Texas governor Greg Abbott on Thursday signed a bill to restrict the ability of social media giants to block users, paving the way for action against such measures used by companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube.
The bill, now a law, will dilute the power of social media companies to block or censor people for their political viewpoints, the Republican governor said in a press conference.
Mr Abbott said he was signing House Bill 20 into law to “fight back against big tech political censorship”, citing it as a threat to freedom of speech in the state.
The law, which critics says will interfere with the safety policies of major social media platforms, is set to be challenged by Facebook, Twitter and Google, reported USA Today.
Mr Abbott said: “Freedom of speech is under attack in Texas. There’s a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence conservative ideas and values.
“Today I am about to sign a law that fights back against big tech political censorship. It prevents social media companies from banning users based on the users’ political viewpoint. It allows Texans who are wrongfully de-platformed or restricted to be able to file a lawsuit, to get back on to that social media site,” the governor said.
The law, covering social media companies with over 50 million daily users, will also allow the Texas attorney general or any individual to file a lawsuit on behalf of “anybody who was wrongfully restricted from access to the social media site”, the governor said in a video address he shared on his Twitter account.
“It is now a law that conservative viewpoints of Texans cannot be banned on social media,” Mr Abbott said.
Under this law, the sites will have to disclose their content management and moderation policies. They will also have to implement a complaint and appeals process for content they remove, providing a reason for the removal and a review of their decision, House Bill 20 states. It also prevents email services from blocking email messages based on the content.
Sites will have to review and remove illegal content within 48 hours, it said.
The bill comes in the wake of Texas’s controversial abortion law which bans medical termination of pregnancy after the detection of cardiac activity – which usually occurs at around six weeks, when a woman may not yet be aware of her pregnancy.
The law, which leaves enforcement to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors, has been widely criticised for being anti-choice for women as it will require women to carry an unwanted pregnancy with lifelong consequences.
Calling the law “unconstitutional”, the US Justice Department has sued Texas, stating that it was enacted “in open defiance of the constitution”.
The law must be declared invalid “to enjoin its enforcement, and to protect the rights that Texas has violated”, argued the lawsuit filed in federal court. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that the act unlawfully infringes on the constitutional rights of women and is “clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent”.
The Texas law is the biggest nationwide curb to abortion since the Supreme Court affirmed the landmark 1973 decision in the case of Roe v Wade that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.