Arkansas state rep Johnny Rye is in galaxy mind mode. He's introduced a bill that aims to stop "censorship" by social media platforms by allowing the government to compel speech. I'm sure the irony is lost on Rye. But it's probably not the only thing sailing over Rep. Rye's head. (h/t Sarah McLaughlin)
What Rye is trying to stop is social media companies moderating their own platforms. He appears to feel conservatives are being "censored" by Facebook, Twitter, etc. and thinks rolling over the First Amendment and Section 230 immunity is going to cure this perceived ill.
Holy hell, the bill [PDF] is a mess. I'm going to have to quote from it at length because it's the only way any discussion of it can achieve semi-coherence. Here's the gist of it, from David Ramsey of the Arkansas Times:
The bill would allow plaintiffs to seek damages of a minimum of $75,000 "per purposeful deletion or censoring of the social media website user's speech" plus actual damages and punitive damages if aggravating factors are present. Only social media companies with at least 75 million subscribers would be subject to Rye's bill.
Slightly more specifically, the "Stop Social Media Censorship Act" says this:
The owner or operator of a social media website who resides in this state is subject to a private right of action by a social media website user if the social media website purposely:
(i) Deletes or censors a social media website user's religious or political speech; or
(ii) Uses an algorithm to suppress religious or political speech.
How does Rep. Rye get around the fact that private companies can moderate content on their platforms however they'd like without it being "censorship?" Easy. He just unilaterally declares Facebook, et al to be "public utilities." Problem solved.
A social media website is considered a public utility under this section.
Pretty cool. I didn't know writing worked that way. Let me see if I've got the hang of this…
Rep. Rye is considered a nuisance and threat to public safety under this section.
Now I just need to send the cops around to restore public safety by taking Rep. Rye out of the rotation.
The good news is social media companies can limit the monetary damages by restoring/uncensoring posts a user complains about. (Presumably using an in-court complaint form, rather than the site's online forms.) There's your compelled speech, which is just another misshapen cherry on the top of shit sundae.
Here's Rye's tiny concession to the First Amendment, which isn't really a concession, nor even compliant with the First Amendment. This must be Rye's idea of "narrow crafting."
A social media website is immune from liability under this section if it deletes or censors a social media website user's speech or uses an algorithm to disfavor or censure speech that calls for immediate acts of violence, is obscene, or pornographic in nature.
Rye is generously allowing platforms to engage in the sort of moderation they already engage in. They're free to moderate certain kinds of speech, just not the kind of speech Rye likes. And if users aren't willing to sue over "censorship" themselves, the state is empowered to draw inferences on their behalf.
The Attorney General may bring a civil cause of action under this section on behalf of social media website users who reside in this state whose religious speech or political speech has been censored by a social media website.
If you're wondering why Rep. Rye has crafted this monument to his own stupidity, David Ramsey has your answer:
Rye's bill comes in the same week that Sen. Jason Rapert vociferously complained about being temporarily barred from sending tweets by Twitter. A tweet that Rapert sent out regarding Muslims was found by the company to violate its "hateful conduct policy." The company imposed a timeout that lasted at least 12 hours, according to a printout of Twitter's communication that Rapert held up to the camera in a Facebook Live post. The offending tweet has apparently been removed.
Here are a couple other things Rye is pitching this legislative session:
Make it a felony to relocate, alter, remove, rename, rededicate or otherwise disturb historical monuments on public property without the permission of the Arkansas History Commission.
Create a special license plate for members of the Arkansas Masonic Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons.
So, a "no tearing down Confederate war hero statues" bill, and a special license plate for himself. From Rye's bio:
He is active in the Lions Club and Masonic Lodge.
This wave of proposed legislation follows last year's failed attempt to repeal the state's recognition of same-sex marriages.
And he's looking for even more internet regulation, this time under the guise of fighting sex trafficking. This bill [PDF] would ban anyone from selling any devices that access the internet without pre-installed "blocking software." This is at least as batshit as his social media censorship proposal.
A distributor shall not in this state manufacture, sell, offer for sale, lease, or distribute a product that makes content accessible on the internet unless the product:
(A) Contains active and properly operating blocking software that renders obscene material inaccessible;
(B) Prohibits access to content that is prohibited under this chapter;
(C) Prohibits access to revenge pornography;
(D) Prohibits access to a website that facilitates prostitution; and
(E) Prohibits access to a website that facilitates human trafficking.
The list of "prohibited content" includes revenge porn, "specified anatomical areas," and obscene material. The reseller or manufacturer violating this law is subject to a $500 fine… wait for it:
...for each prohibited image, video or audio depiction, or website found to be accessible at the time of the offense.
On top of adding new software to their devices, resellers and manufacturers will also foot the bill for a 24/7 complaint hotline to report overblocking/underblocking.
The good news (I guess) is that Arkansans still have the option to see turgid penises and whatnot. All they have to do is pay $20 and state, in writing, that they're above the age of 18 and definitely want to see as many "specified anatomical areas" as possible. Proof of age must also be submitted. The bill does not specify whether this will restore access to revenge porn or trafficked humans, but one would assume it's an all-inclusive fee.
Sex trafficking will somehow be prevented by the state AG dumping collected fines into a strongbox marked "for the children," because nothing's too on the nose for Johnny Rye:
Fines levied by a court under subdivision (a)(2)(A) of this section shall be deposited into the Safe Harbor Fund for Sexually Exploited Children.
Whew. What a time to be alive. And in Arkansas. And knowing you still have two more years before you can unceremoniously return Johnny Rye to the private sector he so very badly wants to harm.