On Thursday, a version of the “Stop Social Media Censorship” bill was introduced in the Virginia legislature by Republican Delegate Mark L. Cole. The measure, if passed into law, would classify social media sites with 75 million or more users as “public service corporations” and give users a private right to take civil action when those sites engage in the censorship of political or religious speech.
The summary of the measure, known as House Bill No. 2635, states:
Requires the State Corporation Commission to regulate as a public service corporation any social media website that is open to the public, that has more than 75 million subscribers, and that is not specifically affiliated with any one religion or political party from its inception. The measure prohibits such a website from using an assertion, opinion, or belief that religious or political speech constitutes hate speech as a basis for deleting or censoring a user’s religious or political speech. The measure authorizes any user of such a regulated website to bring a civil action against its owner for intentionally deleting or censoring the user’s religious or political speech in which the user may recover damages and attorney fees and costs.
The measure states that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter would require a “certificate of authority” to operate in the state, with said certificate to include:
1. The social media website’s policies regarding the deletion or censoring of the religious or political speech of users;
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2. The social media website’s policies regarding the use of algorithms that identify users or content for deletion or censoring; and
3. A certification by the operator that the social media website will be operated to meet the requirements of this chapter; and
4. A bond in form and amount satisfactory to the Commission sufficient to ensure payment of any judgments that in the Commission’s discretion may reasonably be expected pursuant to subsection A of § 56-617.
The bill also states that “[h]ate speech is a form of protected speech,” and further says:
A social media website that is regulated by the Commission as a public service corporation shall not use an assertion, opinion, or belief that religious or political speech constitutes hate speech as a basis for deleting or censoring a user’s religious or political speech.
As we and others have reported, Facebook, the largest of the sites making up what this writer now refers to as the “Silicon Valley Axis of Evil,” routinely bans users and censors innocuous posts, claiming they constitute “hate speech.” One ban, for example, called a portion of the Declaration of Independence “hate speech.” In another case, Facebook said that prayers for the protection of children also violated the site’s rules on “hate speech.”
The measure offers remedies for those whose speech is censored:
If any social media website that is regulated by the Commission as a public service corporation intentionally deletes or censors the religious or political speech of a user who resides in the Commonwealth, such user may bring a private action in any court of competent jurisdiction against such owner and recover compensatory and punitive damages. In such action the user may also recover attorney fees and costs and may elect, in lieu of actual damages, to recover $75,000 in statutory damages. Jurisdiction to hear and determine cases and controversies arising under provisions of this chapter shall be in the circuit court of the county or city wherein the user resides or has its principal place of business in the Commonwealth. The court may grant equitable relief as is necessary to remedy the effects of conduct that it finds to exist and which is prohibited under this chapter, including, but not limited to, declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The Attorney General may bring an action under this section against such a website on behalf of any user who resides in the Commonwealth.
And there’s more:
In the event of material and continuing default in the performance of the failure of the social media website to comply with the terms of its certificate or the requirements of this chapter, the Commission, after notice and a hearing in which the social media website has notice and opportunity to participate, may revoke the certificate of authority for the social media website and make or cause to be made the appropriate claim or claims under any bonds or take such other action as it may deem appropriate under the circumstances.
The measure clarifies:
Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection A, a social media website that is regulated by the Commission as a public service corporation may use algorithms to delete or censor political or religious speech that calls for immediate acts of violence, is obscene, or is pornographic and shall not be liable under § 56-617 to a user for the use of an algorithm in deleting or censoring a user’s religious or political speech.
A video explaining the Stop Social Media Censorship Act can be seen here.
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