The governor of Texas signed a bill on Thursday banning social media platforms from removing posts because of the political views expressed in them, a measure that is likely to draw significant legal scrutiny after a similar law was blocked by a judge in Florida.
Under the new rules, large platforms like Facebook and Twitter cannot remove, play down or otherwise moderate content because of a user’s political perspective, or ban the user entirely. The companies will also need to publish regular reports showing how often they received complaints about content and how often they took posts down.
Private citizens can sue the social media companies over violations of the law, as can the state’s attorney general. The law covers companies with more than 50 million monthly active users in the United States, and it applies to anyone who lives in Texas, does business there or “shares or receives” social media content in the state.
Conservative states have increasingly targeted the ways that Silicon Valley companies police their platforms. Similar proposals have cropped up in dozens of states around the country this year, reflecting a frustration among Republican voters with the rules that govern what they can say online. The bill signed by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas adopts that language: It says it prohibits “censorship” online and claims large social media sites are “common carriers,” a kind of tightly regulated company like a phone provider.
The new laws have drawn critics who say they violate the First Amendment rights of private companies to decide what content they host. Industry groups sued over a Florida law that made it illegal to ban some candidates for public office from social media. A judge agreed to block the law while the courts consider that legal challenge.
The social media companies say they do not purposefully downplay conservative views and personalities. Conservative figures often run some of the most popular pages online. Facebook and Twitter declined to comment. Google, which owns YouTube, declined to comment as well.