Joining a movement gaining steam ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Republicans are preparing to launch an assault on free speech with legislation similar to laws passed in the state of Florida earlier this year.
Back in February, a batch of anti-free speech proposals were introduced by Gov. Ron DeSantis in “red state” Florida. DeSantis, motivated by his full embrace of Trump’s four-years-long attack on free speech, claimed in a press conference at the time that the legislation he was promoting was necessary to “crack down” on Big Tech for their alleged bias against conservatives.
In May, DeSantis signed the Florida assault on free speech into law.
Following DeSantis’ lead, Abbott introduced a Texas version of the Republican assault on free speech (SB-12), and using the same rationale peddled by the Florida governor, Abbott promised to save free speech by destroying it (my words).
“We need to recognize in Texas, maybe particularly in Texas, we see that the First Amendment is under assault by the social media companies and that is not going to be tolerated in Texas.”
Texas’ anti-free speech legislation was temporarily put on hold, but in the recent special session called by Abbott to address the overhaul of the state’s voting laws along with other issues, Texas Republicans revived the assault on free speech with legislation to deal with what is being referred to as social media “censorship” of “conservatives” (via USA Today):
Texas is on the verge of passing a new law that would crack down on social media companies Republicans say are censoring conservative speech.
The GOP-controlled state Senate passed the bill Tuesday night. If it heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who has publicly backed the bill, he’s expected to sign it.
The new law, passed in the final days of the second special session called by Abbott, would allow any Texas resident banned from Facebook, Twitter or Google’s YouTube for their political views to sue the companies. The state attorney general also would be able to sue on behalf of a user or a group of users.
It is similar to a Florida law that was blocked by a federal judge one day before it was set to take effect.
Florida was the first state to push through legislation when Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, signed a bill in May that penalizes social media companies for removing or barring the speech of politicians.
However, a federal judge temporarily blocked the new law after NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association – lobbying groups that represent Facebook, Google and other tech giants – sued. DeSantis is appealing.
Both Abbott and DeSantis are widely seen as possible GOP 2024 presidential contenders coming from big states with large electoral votes. Abbott is facing his first challenging Republican primary to be re-elected governor. (emphasis mine)
The claims being made by these “presidential contenders” that the First Amendment and free speech are under assault by social media companies is hyperbolic Orwellian doublespeak used to justify a government assault on liberty in the interest of protecting “the party.”
While it’s true that social media has engaged in far-left activity by silencing voices they don’t agree with — I’ve experienced some of this myself — their actions are not an “assault” on the free speech. In fact, the First Amendment protects private entities like social media companies from the very laws Texas and Florida are trying to pass. Senior Editor Robby Soave at Reason.com explains:
The First Amendment is not under assault by social media companies. On the contrary, the First Amendment defends the free speech rights of private entities—like social media companies—against restrictive government action, like this bill. It would be more accurate to say that the First Amendment is under assault by the Texas legislature. A private company deciding what kind of speech it allows on its platform is precisely the kind of thing the First Amendment protects from government interference. (emphasis mine)
Greg Abbott is
wrong lying when he says the First Amendment and free speech are under assault by social media; if anything, it’s under assault by faux conservatives in the Republican Party. Abbott is simply engaging in political opportunism in the hope of scoring cheap political points.
As Soave also points out, existing federal law addresses the limitations placed on social media; Texas’ legislation is secondary to federal law.
Under a federal law known as Section 230, social media companies cannot be held liable for “any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.” In other words, federal law already gives social media companies every right to restrict users’ content, and Texas’ bill—as written—bows to federal law. (emphasis mine)
Ah, yes. Section 230 — the key to Republican efforts to destroy free speech.
So-called Section 230 reform has been a vote-getting talking point for Trump and the Republican Party for some time, and they’ve used it to wage their war against the First Amendment and punish political enemies while simultaneously giving the state more control of the internet.
Section 230 reform is a false-flag operation that has allowed Republicans to covertly push anti-free speech legislation that punishes big tech for being successful in order to create a new “Fairness Doctrine” for the internet.
Florida and Texas aren’t the birthplaces of big tech demonization for political advantage; it was born in Washington.
Trump threatened to crush social media and other big tech companies for questioning his awesomeness, and he threatened to shut down platforms like Facebook and Twitter for displeasing him.
In May, 2020, Trump took action on his threat with an executive order entitled, “Preventing Online Censorship” (POC) — an Orwellian order that called for an “update” to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, labeled government regulation of speech as free speech, and called any resistance to government messaging (i.e. propaganda) “censorship.”
In addition, POC included new ways for the government to control internet content and spy on internet users.
Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act last year, a bill designed to give bureaucrats and politicians in Washington total authority to grant or deny Section 230 protection for social media platforms based on their compliance with a set of arbitrary rules established by the bill.
Following Trump’s anti-free speech executive order, a group of Republicans introduced the Limiting Section 230 Immunity to Good Samaritans Act, a bill specifically limiting Section 230 immunity for social media platforms. The bill was sponsored by anti-big tech nationalist Sen. Josh Hawley, and co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, and Tom Cotton.
By the way, Hawley has made taking down big tech and reforming Section 230 foundational to his 2024 presidential ambitions as he builds a platform based on Trumpism and constitutional ignorance.
Republicans in “red states” like Florida and Texas used to believe in free speech, but now they have launched an assault against it.
The only way to rein in the power of anti-free speech zealots like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott and protect our God-given rights against from their assault is to to reject the collectivist politics of the Republican Party — along with Trumpism and nationalism — and strictly adhere to the Constitution.
David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative. He holds people of every political stripe accountable for their failure to uphold conservative values, and he promotes those values instead of political parties.