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Bill would prevent social media companies from blocking users over viewpoints

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Proposed legislation would prohibit large social media platforms from blocking a user in Alabama or deleting the opinions or information they share.

Senate Bill 10, pre-filed by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, says if a “major interactive computer service” does discriminate against users based on what they share, it “shall forfeit to the affected user $100,000 for each offense, and an additional $100,000 for each day of the continuance of the offense.”

Senate Bill 10 defines a major interactive computer service as having more than 30 million users in the United States and more than $1 billion in annual global revenue.

The bill, should it become law, does not protect content that violates a federal, state or local law or “solicits, facilitates, or incites the commission of an unlawful act.”

Orr said people are constantly pushed off social media sites for differences of opinion.

“If we’re going to have these platforms as the marketplace for ideas, we need to hear all ideas,” Orr told Alabama Daily News. “Some of them may be out there, but they can be discounted or disproved. And you don’t need a censor in the middle making those decisions because that goes to the fundamentals of the First Amendment.”

Orr worked on the bill with Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.

“Through its alarmingly rampant acts of censorship and suppression on ‘the modern public square,’ Big Tech has thoroughly demonstrated its disdain for the American principle of freedom of speech,” Marshall said in a written statement to ADN. 

“Every day, citizens of all stripes are being censored on social media for sharing facts and viewpoints that Big Tech deems unacceptable—from Twitter suppressing the factual reporting of the nation’s oldest daily newspaper, to YouTube scrubbing videos of physicians and scientists for daring to contradict the pronouncements of the World Health Organization, to Facebook suspending the account of the mother of a Marine slain in the bombing at the Kabul International Airport for her criticism of the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.  This is un-American—and, in Alabama, it should be illegal.”

Twelve of Orr’s GOP senate colleagues co-signed the bill. If passed, Alabama won’t be the first state taking on tech companies this way. Earlier this year, Texas leaders approved a similar law.

And Florida’s legislature and governor approved a law enabling the state to fine large social media companies $250,000 a day if they remove an account of a statewide political candidate, and $25,000 a day if they remove an account of someone running for a local office.

A federal judge later blocked the law, in part because he said it was aimed at only large social media businesses, not smaller ones that provide the same services, and made exceptions for Disney and their apps by including that theme park owners wouldn’t be subject to the law, the Associated Press reported.

Federal law protects websites like Facebook and Twitter from liability over users’ content.

“If they’re going to put themselves in this business and get the protections of the federal government … but then go into the censorship game, that’s the concern,” Orr said. 

Alabama’s legislative session starts Jan. 11.

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