A new bill introduced in the Senate Thursday would prevent Google, Facebook, Twitter and other large tech platforms from removing any lawful speech posted by users.
The so-called “PRO-SPEECH Act,” introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) would specifically prohibit platforms with more than 100 million global active users, or $500 million in annual revenue, from blocking or degrading “any lawful content, application, service, or device that does not interfere with the internet platform’s functionality or pose a data privacy or data security risk to a user.”
If enacted, web platforms would be prohibited from taking down content that's not illegal -- including speech that is racist, sexist, or downright untrue. In other words, Twitter would be prohibited from removing false claims about election fraud, while Facebook wouldn't be allowed to take down false information about the COVID-19 vaccine.
A separate provision of the proposed law would require tech platforms to disclose how they curate, promote or demonetize content.
The bill is apparently driven by the false belief that tech companies are particularly likely to suppress conservative speech.
On Thursday, Wicker attacked Google, Facebook and Twitter over their policies -- implying they discriminate against conservative viewpoints.
“Facebook announced it's suspending the account of a former president of the United States,” Wicker said. “That is too much power -- for them to decide who can and who cannot make news and be quoted.”
He also criticized Google for having allegedly “threatened to cut off several conservative websites, including The Federalist.” (Last year, Google warned The Federalist it might be removed from Google's ad network due to potential policy violations in the comments section.)
“I am introducing legislation to make it clear that these large internet/tech platforms cannot discriminate based on their own opinions and based on what they think the public should and should not be allowed to hear,” Wicker said Thursday. “This is a serious, grave threat to freedom and the open exchange of ideas under our constitution.”
Despite its misleading name, the PRO-SPEECH Act obviously conflicts with the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from dictating what private companies publish. Judges have already ruled in other cases that tech companies, including Google, have a constitutional right to block material.
Aside from the potential legal problems with the bill, it would carry practical consequences that few people likely want.
The bill would “make the internet a cesspool full of lies and hate,” Adam Kovacevich, head of the new tech industry-funded group Chamber of Progress, says in an email to MediaPost. "It would mandate Google to share its algorithms with Russian trolls, and force YouTube to host PornHub videos, Facebook to host Alex Jones, and Apple's App Store to host Parler.”
Wicker is not the only conservative official to suggest that large tech companies should be required to carry all speech.
Right-wing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently opined that Congress could enact legislation treating tech platforms like Google and Facebook as “common carriers” -- comparable to gas and electric companies.
Earlier this week, the Ohio Attorney General went so far as to ask a state judge to declare Google a common carrier.
And the state of Florida recently passed a bill that would prohibit tech companies from banning politicians running for office. Tech industry groups are currently challenging that bill in court, arguing the measure violates their free speech rights.