Concerned about the control Google, Facebook, Twitter and other big tech companies have, state Rep. Al Cutrona plans next week to introduce a bill that would prohibit them from censoring based on content unless it violates state or federal laws.
“There’s been a massive amount of constituents who brought this to my attention as well as people across the state of Ohio who view this as a major concern,” Cutrona, R-Canfield, said. “They’re concerned about censorship by big tech companies.”
Similar proposals to curb the power of major technology companies have been introduced in several other states, overwhelmingly by Republicans. Only a small number have become bills.
Much of the legislation was proposed after various online platforms — including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — removed the accounts of Republican former President Donald Trump, accused of inciting the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol to stop the congressional electoral vote count for the presidency he lost.
“It’s a tipping point that the president of the United States was deplatformed,” Cutrona said. “We’ve seen it with congressional members as well.”
The bill will be filed next week, he said.
Cutrona said his legislation would:
• Prohibit social media platforms from banning, blocking or discriminating against a person based on the ideas they express, unless the statements violate state or federal laws;
• Force social media companies to notify the user why content was removed as well as provide an opportunity to appeal the decision;
• Require the companies to disclose publicly how it curates and targets content to its users, moderates content and identify what algorithms or procedures are used to determine what appears when you search on the platform.
Those censored in violation of the bill could file a complaint with the state attorney general and that office could bring a civil action against the social media company to receive injunction action and recover reasonable attorney’s fees and investigative costs. People also could sue the companies.
If a company refuses to comply with a court order, it could be held in contempt of court.
Cutrona said the bill wouldn’t protect or promote hate speech.
“They can still remove that,” he said. “We’re not trying to create a hostile environment. It’s to protect the First Amendment. It’s to protect all political views. Free expression shouldn’t be censored.”
Cutrona also said the bill is enforceable.
“On the state level, things can be done and this is one of them,” he said.
Asked about the legality of Cutrona’s proposal, David Betras, an attorney and former Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, said it isn’t enforceable.
“Government cannot regulate speech,” Betras said. “Government cannot tell private businesses what they can and cannot do, so it couldn’t be enforceable. Constitutionally, Cutrona needs to stop pandering to his base.”
Betras added: “I’m not saying we don’t need regulations, but it has to come from the federal government.”
The only bill approved by Congress related to social media companies is to make them more legally liable if they facilitate sex trafficking, according a New York Times article that Cutrona provided.
Cutrona said he’s been working on the bill for several months and has a number of legislators interested in cosponsoring it.