A bill proposed by Republican lawmakers in North Dakota could enable lawsuits to be filed against Twitter and Facebook by users who have seen their accounts deleted or censored.
The new bill (pdf), sponsored by six legislators, is titled, “an Act to permit civil actions against social media sites for censoring speech,” and it stipulates that websites with more than 1 million users would be “liable in a civil action for damages to the person whose speech is restricted, censored, or suppressed, and to any person who reasonably otherwise would have received the writing, speech, or publication.”
For individuals who have been censored, compensation includes “treble damages for compensatory, consequential, and incidental damages,” according to the bill.
North Dakota state Rep. Tom Kading (R), a sponsor of the bill, explained his rationale.
“It’s just wrong to ban a sitting president,” Kading told the Grand Forks Herald, adding that the proposal is meant to provide a legal tool for those who live in North Dakota. He was referring to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms taking action against President Donald Trump.
Kading further argued that Facebook and Twitter, namely, violate their own terms of agreement signed by users after they ban or restrict content related to politics.
Twitter’s rules stipulate that the site has “a zero tolerance policy against violent threats,” and a post can be removed if it “includes a declarative call to action that could harm a specific individual or group.” However, some critics of Twitter have argued that the firm has overstepped its bounds by creating its own definition and adds context about what “violent threats” may be, while some have highlighted double-standards around content.
Some experts said the proposed bill would not have an effect.
Attorney Akiva Cohen wrote on Twitter that the law “would immediately be deemed void as preempted by Section 230 [of the Communications Decency Act],” because “federal law is supreme over state law where they conflict, and this would create an express conflict.”
Section 230 has been criticized by conservatives as a law that essentially serves as a liability shield for Twitter and Facebook. The 1996 law states that providers and users of computer services shouldn’t 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, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
The law gives a shield to companies that moderate user-generated content. Trump and other Republicans have said it should be repealed, arguing that Big Tech firms have essentially overstepped their bounds by moderating content.