Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Various States Push Blatantly Unconstitutional Laws From Fringe Actor Trying to Restrict Social Media Moderation

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

A bunch of Republican state legislators across the country are apparently unconcerned with either the 1st Amendment (or reality) have decided that they need to stop social media companies from engaging in any sort of content moderation. […]

Of course, it’s easy to just point at Florida and say “there goes Florida again…” but it’s actually Republican legislators in a whole bunch of states. And this wasn’t even the first such bill in Florida. A week or so earlier, Republican state Senator Joe Gruters introduced a bill called the “Stop Social Media Censorship Act” which bars any moderation of “religious or political speech.”

Gruters may have introduced the bill, but it doesn’t look like he wrote it. Because in Kentucky, Republican Senators Robby Mills and Phillip Wheeler introduced a nearly identical bill. Oh, and over in Oklahoma, Republican Senator Rob Standridge also introduced an identical bill. In Arizona, it’s Senator Sonny Borrelli who has introduced very similar legislation, though his looks a little different, and (insanely) would try to put into law that a social media website is “deemed to be a publisher” and “deemed not to be a platform” which is, you know, not a thing that actually matters. In North Dakota, there’s Republican State Rep. Tom Kading who’s similar bill also includes the nonsense publisher/platform distinction.

The same bill also recently surfaced in New Hampshire and Mississippi, but the earliest copy I found was pushed in 2018 in Arkansas (PDF). Do not go thinking Arkansas Representative Johnny Rye actually wrote the bill he was proposing, though.

John Moritz, of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in January 2019:

In late July, emails began appearing in some Arkansas lawmakers’ in-boxes from an out-of-state man who identified himself as Chris Severe.

He offered a half-dozen pieces of legislation, one of them on human trafficking. He made a simple request.

“We will let you pick who gets to sponsor what. Once you decide, we will reach out [to] them and brief them,” read one message, sent using a pseudonym.

[…]

The two pieces of legislation included one bill aimed at stopping “social media censorship” and another that would mandate that devices capable of accessing the Internet have software to block material defined as obscene under Arkansas law. Under the proposal, those devices could be unblocked if users paid a $20 fee.

Moritz’s reporting on the circumstances of this model legislation is truly excellent. Severe is actually Chris Sevier, whose surname is often also spelled Seviere, and he has a remarkable record of putting unconstitutional bills before lawmakers and encouraging their filing. In 2013 in Florida, Sevier sued Apple because the company’s devices can provide access to pornography. In 2017, Sevier was behind legislation pushed in many states that would require porn filtering on all devices. Last year in Mississippi, Sen. Chris McDaniel pushed a Sevier-created bill that would require media coverage of the outcomes of all cases against public figures.

Lest you think he’s just some laughable caricature of a man with a porn obsession, I should also clarify that he seems to be a homophobic jackass who once equated same sex marriage with his relationship with his computer.

Moritz’s 2019 reporting links Sevier to a group called Special Forces of Liberty, which wrote this model legislation for all fifty states. The bill proposed in New Hampshire, for example, is nearly identical to Sevier’s pitch. These bills are all from the same template, pushed by an inactive attorney and fringe actor who is obsessed with creating bills that would fly in the face of the First Amendment. In a video about his social media censorship proposal, he dismisses its blatant unconstitutionality as a “scare tactic”. That is a pretty weak argument to ignore away its fundamental illegality.

Anyway, that is the background of this legislation as best as I can dig it up. I am sure Masnick will have more on this if these proposals get anywhere near becoming law.