Twitter’s decision to ban President Donald Trump’s account has proved costly – at least so far.
Business Insider reported that Twitter lost $5 billion in market value Monday after permanently banning Trump from its platform.
“Twitter stock likely fell because investors are worried the Trump ban will erode interest in the platform and lead to boycotts among those who see the decision as politically motivated and a way to silence a major conservative voice,” Business Insider suggested.
Well, in one aspect they are right.
Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini sees the Trump ban as politically motivated and is seeking to renew interest in his previous effort to hold Big Tech accountable for squelching speech.
The Lake County Republican recently called attention to a bill he first proposed in early December – the “Stop Social Media Censorship Act” – that would prohibit tech companies from killing accounts or content because of politics or religion.
The text of Sabatini’s bill notes that Florida “has a compelling interest in holding certain social media websites to higher standards for having substantially created a digital public square.”
The state’s interest is in guaranteeing its residents “enjoy their free exercise of rights in certain semi-public forums commonly used for religious and political speech.”
The bill, if enacted would apply to social media firms that are open to the public, have more than 75 million subscribers, and since their inception have not been “specifically affiliated” with any one religion or political party.
Unlike federal law, Sabatini’s bill would waive protection from legal liability for such companies who act as censors.
Users would be able to sue a tech firm, according to the measure, if it “deletes or censors the user’s religious speech or political speech,” or if it “uses an algorithm to disfavor or censure the user’s religious speech or political speech.” The state attorney general also would be allowed to sue under such circumstances.
Companies’ claims that they were banning “alleged hate speech” would not be a sufficient defense.
Yet one problem is that is broadly defined. Sabatini’s bill says “hate speech” is “a phrase concerning content that an individual finds offensive based on his or her personal moral code.”
Undoubtedly, for instance, many liberals would claim Trump’s comments before the tragic riot at the Capitol would offend their “personal moral code,” even though Trump did not explicitly encourage violence that day.
Still, those who succeed in winning such lawsuits would be eligible for at least $75,000 in damages.
Under Sabatini’s bill, tech companies could avoid that by showing they restored a user’s content “in a reasonable amount of time.”
The anti-censorship bill would not apply to users whose posts call for “immediate” acts of violence, offer pornography, “entice” criminal activity, involve bullying minors, or emerge from an “inauthentic source” or involve “false personation. Tech companies would also be excused for removing content because of “operational error,” or a court order.
On Friday, in highlighting his bill, Sabatini tweeted, “Now that @Twitter is currently conducting a MAJOR PURGE based on political viewpoint, now is a good time to check out my bill which would disallow that.”
Conservatives had long complained before Trump’s ban that Big Tech was restricting content that they wanted to circulate or had posted on social media. In recent days, some conservative personalities complained that they were inexplicably losing followers.
Although it came first chronologically, Sabatini’s bill follows the logic and rhetoric that conservative writer and activist Chad Felix Greene referenced in a lengthy Twitter thread on Saturday.
“The most powerful people who influence technology see” conservatives as something they “feel morally driven to remove from the world,” Greene tweeted.
“We aren’t customers. We aren’t users. We aren’t people with real lives and families and businesses. We are a problem to be solved and they’ve been trying to figure out how for years and finally can do it.”
He added, “This means adding political affiliation to anti-discrimination law in red states. We no longer have the luxury of arguing against the idea of protected classes. We are now a marginalized group. You need to accept that and behave as such. This is a Civil Rights movement.’
Continuing, Greene argued, “Eventually we must stop treating the internet as a fad and gadget we can just toss aside and move on from. We must have an internet bill of rights. Legal rights protecting all people from censorship and banning for who they are or what they believe. This is a new world.”