PHOENIX – Last week, Arizona conservatives hailed President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship. However, few of them knew that an effort to protect them from the censorship employed by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter was thwarted on the state-level earlier in the year.
For years, conservative Arizona Capitol insiders have pleaded with lawmakers to amend A.R.S. 18-545; relating to internet representations, to fight the social media platforms’ censorship on the state level. One legislator, Arizona State Rep. Bob Thorpe, heeded those pleas and introduced HB2124.
HB2124: AMENDING TITLE 18, CHAPTER 5, ARTICLE 3, ARIZONA REVISED STATUTES, BY ADDING SECTION 18-545; RELATING TO INTERNET REPRESENTATIONS
18-545 – Publishers; access to online content; liability; definitions
A. A person that is engaged in the business of allowing online users to upload publicly accessible content on the internet, other than pornographic or libelous content, and that edits, deletes or makes it difficult or impossible for online users to locate and access the uploaded content in an easy or timely manner for politically biased reasons is:
1. Deemed to be a publisher.
2. Deemed to not be a platform.
3. Liable for damages suffered by an online user because of the person’s actions, including damages for violations of rights guaranteed to the online user by the federal or state constitution. the attorney general or the online user who claims to have suffered the damages may bring an action to recover the damages.
B. For the purposes of this section:
1. “Platform” means a person that enables the content and distribution of information on the internet.
2. “Publisher” means a person that curates and distributes content on the internet.
Some of the most powerful lobbyists at the Capitol work for online platforms so it was little surprise to many when Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers killed Thorpe’s bill by “double assigning” it to both the Commerce and Technology committees. Once a bill is assigned to more than one committee, it is a signal that the bill will die a slow death.
“As a senior member of the House and a Chairman of the Technology Committee, it was extremely frustrating to have none of my bills make it to the Governor for his signature, including HB2124 that was duel-assigned to 2 committees by Speaker Bowers —- no doubt in order to kill it,” said Thorpe in an email responding to the Arizona Daily Independent. “For many years, conservatives have rightly complained across our nation when they have lost their 1st Amendment free speech rights and protections, when their social media voice has been harmed or muted in politically-biased manners. AZ Congressman Gosar tried to enact Federal legislation to address this problem, and now President Trump is reacting to this abusive censorship of political speech through his Executive Orders. My HB2124 Bill would have been a powerful free speech tool for Arizonans to wield against social media companies, like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, that censor political speech. It would have: 1) defined that abusive companies are publishers and not merely content providers, 2) remove the legal protections against lawsuits that are shielding abusive social media companies, and 3) would allow harmed individuals to sue those abusive social media companies for violations of the individual’s Constitutionally protected free speech rights.”
As Thorpe noted, Rep. Paul Gosar introduced H.R.4027, Stop the Censorship Act, on July 25, 2019. The bill, like Thorpe’s, would have limited “a social media company’s immunity from liability for screening and blocking offensive content on its platform. The bill applies such immunity when the company restricts content that is unlawful rather than merely objectionable.”