The Georgia state Senate voted 33-21 Tuesday to pass a bill preventing large social media companies from blocking users and content on grounds it is discriminatory and violates free expression.
Senate Bill 393 seeks to add the Common Carrier Non-Discrimination Act to Title 46 of the Georgia Code, which relates to public utilities and transportation. The bill identifies open social media platforms with over 20 million active monthly users in the US as “common carriers” with a public interest since they provide a forum for public debate—a “basic service”. The bill finds each person in the state has a fundamental interest in freedom of expression and the state has a responsibility to protect this interest.
The bill defines censorship as including altering, deleting, and demonetizing content, including text, sound, and image, and restricting, “shadow banning” or wholly suspending users. It prohibits common carriers from censoring users or their expressions or interactions based on their “viewpoints”, regardless of whether the viewpoint is communicated through the carrier or elsewhere, and their religious and political beliefs or affiliations. Users may bring a civil action for injunctive and declaratory relief against any common carrier violating the act, including as a class action.
The bill also requires common carriers to publicly disclose information regarding their content management practices, including moderation, removal, demonetization, and use of algorithms for promotion or de-promotion of content and the number of cases in which they took action against content.
While critics opined the matter had to be dealt with at the federal and not state level, a common carrier under the bill can exercise censorship where it is “specifically authorized” to by federal law. It can also restrict content that is obscene or excessively violent or which unlawfully harasses individuals or incites violence.
Similar laws from Texas and Florida were put on hold by federal judges last year on grounds that social media companies had First Amendment rights to exercise discretion over the content published on their platforms.
The bill now moves to the House for debate. Once passed, it will apply to users residing or doing business in or “sharing or receiving” expression in Georgia.