MADISON — Big Tech could face lawsuits for silencing speech under a bill circulating this week in the Wisconsin Legislature.
Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Gibson) and Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton) have introduced a package of bills that aim to hit back at censoring social media companies and penalize government officials who violate the First Amendment.
The legislation, though, would likely face the same kind of legal hurdles Florida has encountered on First Amendment grounds.
Here’s what the lawmakers are proposing:
— LRB 2090 provides a civil cause of action for any Wisconsin resident against a social media company who censors, shadow-bans, or otherwise alters a user’s speech on social media sites. This bill allows a local DA, the Wisconsin Department of Justice, or the resident to file suit against social media corporations in violation of these prohibitions.
— LRB 3211 protects the ability of journalistic outlets to publish their materials on social media by creating a cause of action for journalistic outlets to push back on social media giants’ censorship of their publications.
— LRB 4301 implements a penalty structure for government officials in Wisconsin who choose to engage in unethical conduct in direct violation of the First Amendment’s principles.
“Big Tech has long been violating people’s free speech rights through deleting, censoring, and shadow-banning because they disagree with what is posted or who is posting it,” Sortwell said in a press release. “Senator Roth and I will hold them accountable with our package of three bills and will work to protect that First Amendment liberty of every person in the great State of Wisconsin.”
Sortwell also noted the Biden Administration’s cozy relationship with social media behemoths, including confirmation in July the White House is in “regular touch with social media platforms” such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube about “flagging problematic posts.”
“We expect this kind of suppression in China, but it is disturbing that we have allowed it to occur in America, the Land of the Free,” Sortwell said.
State Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) introduced similar legislation earlier this year.
But such measures have run into legal roadblocks elsewhere. Earlier this summer, a federal judge blocked a Florida law that would have held social media companies accountable for banning political candidates. In issuing his temporary injunction, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said Florida’s law would likely violate the free speech of Facebook and others. The state has appealed.
Texas, too, recently passed a law that would allow Lone Star State residents banned from social networks for their political views the right to sue the companies. Texas’ attorney general also would have the power to file a lawsuit on behalf of citizens.
Opponents argue the Tech titans are private entities and can suspend or ban users for violating their policies.
“Big Tech’s efforts to silence conservative viewpoints is un-American, un-Texan and unacceptable and pretty soon it’s going to be against the law in the state of Texas,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year.