Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs into law a controversial bill that opponents say will give the government the power to regulate speech online. Photo courtesy Office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that prohibits large social media companies from banning users over their political opinions, attracting the criticism of free speech activists.
House Bill 20 targets social media companies with more than 50 million monthly users, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and aims to prevent them from banning users over their politics. It also requires the companies to disclose their content management and moderation policies and implement a complaint and appeals process for content they remove.
The bill also permits users who were restricted or deplatformed to sue the companies and allows the attorney general to file suit on their behalf.
"Freedom of speech is under attack in Texas," Abbott said Thursday in a recorded statement. "There is a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence conservative ideals and values. This is wrong and we will not allow it in Texas."
Companies must also remove illegal content with 48 hours while restricting email service providers from interfering with the sending or receiving of emails based on their content.
"In Texas, we will always fight for your freedom of speech," he said. "It is now law that conservative viewpoints cannot be banned on social media."
The bill is similar to one Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in May and was halted from going into effect in late June by District Judge Robert Hinkle, who said it imposed "sweeping requirements" on some social media companies in violation of their constitutional rights.
He said it forces companies to host speech they don't agree with and prevents them from voicing their own opinions.
The laws in both states were pursued in the wake of Facebook and Twitter banning the accounts of former President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol building.
Steve DelBianco, president of NetChoice, a trade association of businesses that filed a suit seeking to block the Florida law, condemned the Texas version of the bill as an attempt to regulate online speech.
"This bill abandons conservative values, violates the First Amendment and forces websites to host obscene, antisemitic, racist, hateful and otherwise awful content," DelBianco said in a statement. "Moderation of user posts is crucial to keeping the Internet safe for Texas families, but this bill would put the Texas government in charge of content policies."
According to a poll conducted by NetChoice, 61% of Republicans in the state don't want the government to force social media companies to host content that offends users while 74% said they think the government should allow social media to remove offensive posts to make their sites more family and workplace friendly.
Adam Kovacevich, founder and chief executive of the Chamber of Progress, a trade group that represents technology companies, said HB20 will put more hate speech, scams, terrorist content and misinformation online.
"When you force social media platforms to pull their referees," he said in a statement, "the bad guys are going to throw more fouls."