Anti-porn activist’s ‘Stop Social Media Censorship Act’ gains traction in Missouri

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A draft ‘Stop Social Media Censorship Act’ bill has been circulating about state capitols for several years with little traction but, as of Tuesday, the model legislation has been introduced in one form or another in all 50 state legislatures.

The Missouri version of the ‘Stop Social Media Act’ is House Bill 482, filed Dec. 14 by Rep. Jeff Coleman, R-Grain Valley, which was heard Monday night before the House General Laws Committee.

HB 482, one of three similar 2021 measures filed by Missouri Republicans, would prohibit social media platforms with at least 75 million users from censoring “political or religious content” and allow victims of censorship to seek up to $75,000 in statutory damages unless the offending speech is found to be obscene, from a false impersonation, or enticing violence.

Coleman told the panel that HB 482 allows Missourians to challenge such censorship as a breach of contract by social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

“This bill basically gives the residents of Missouri a voice,” Coleman said. “It creates a private right of action and allows them to take these social media companies to court and to sue when that company censors them.”

HB 482 prohibits social media companies “from intentionally censoring the political or religious speech of a Missouri resident and provides the user a cause of action against a social media website that censors such speech.”

Under the bill, “Hate speech will not be a justifiable basis for a social media website to censor users” and stipulates circumstances in which a social media website will be immune from liability for censoring certain users or speech.

Christopher Seviere, a Tennessee anti-porn activist who once protested gay marriage in Utah by attempting to legally marry his computer and was arrested in 2013 for stalking songwriter John Rich, authored the draft model legislation now being taken up in all 50 state legislatures, including exact replications in 29.

Dubbed a “security concern” at the Missouri State Capitol since at least 2019, on Feb. 2 Sevier was escorted out of the Oklahoma State Capitol on Feb. 2 after an altercation with a lawmaker. He appeared before the panel Monday night without incident.

But Sevier’s ‘Stop Social Media Censorship Act’ encoded as Coleman’s HB 482 is one of three similar measures that were heard by the House General Laws Committee.

HB 932, filed by Rep. Hardy Billington, R-Grain Valley, is the same as HB 482 except it includes a provision that would shield social media sites from liability by stating its status as a publisher in its terms of service agreement.

HB 783, filed by Rep. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, would require social media platforms clearly define prohibited content in a separate agreement from their terms of service and notify users when updating their standards.

Under HB 783, social media platforms would be prohibited from removing old content based on new terms and companies that do not adhere to the new requirements would face a $100 fine from the state’s Attorney General for a first violation, $200 for a second, and $1,500 for the third.

Attorney Richard Brownlee III, representing Google in opposition to all three bills, said a state cannot competently regulate the internet.

“This is the internet; it goes everywhere in the world, and for us to have to deal with this on a state-by-state basis, it literally borders on the impossible,” he said. “This is a very complicated issue with a lot of far-reaching implications. I’m always reluctant to say this is something that really deserves study and debate and careful thought, and this does.”





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