Culture

Conservative Texas wants to be the lone state exempt from social media bans

The governor wants to grill Big Tech about political censorship in a state that has yet to recover from a destructive winter blackout.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announces the reopening of more Texas businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Monday, May 18, 2020. Abbott said that childcare facilities, youth camps, some professional sports, and bars may now begin to fully or partially reopen their facilities as outlined by regulations listed on the Open Texas website.
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Texas is wading deeper into the free speech versus Big Tech debate. The Lone Star State has pushed Senate Bill 12 to its floor, which argues against perceived censure of conservative viewpoints on social media networks. And the bill's biggest supporter is Republican governor Greg Abbott himself. According to the Texas Tribune, the governor likens social media companies as public carriers of communications which, he says, have a social obligation to facilitate the free flow of dialogue and information. If not, in his opinion, they should be punished.

Senate Bill 12 directs its ire at companies like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and others, and calls on for a ban against banning a user for their expressed opinion as long as the user is from inside of Texas.

The bill would cover private users to businesses and give individuals the power to make claims in court if they feel as if they were banned or demonetized for the wrong reasons. In 2019, as Texas Tribune notes, a similar bill went up in the state but failed to win support in the state House. Today, however, it boasts support from powerful figures like senator Bryan Hughes of the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Ideology trumps basic needs — At a recent press conference, Abbott said, “[Big Tech is] controlling the flow of information — and sometimes denying the flow of information. And they are being in the position where they're choosing which viewpoints are going to be allowed to be presented. Texas is taking a stand against big tech political censorship. We're not going to allow it in the Lone Star State.” This is a curiously pro-regulation stance coming from a state known for despising big government and big rules.

Abbott’s focus on tech censorship against the political right — a frequent complaint echoed by conservatives and debunked by researchers — may strike many as an example of tone-deaf misprioritization. This is because Texas recently underwent a devastating blackout, which exposed the state’s compromised and inadequate energy infrastructure that buckled under unexpectedly intense winter conditions. Unsuspecting Texans were hit with jaw-dropping utility bills as a result. From inmates freezing to the point of turning numb to parents struggling to keep their little children warm, it is not hyperbolic to say Abbott’s state has bigger problems than petty social media worries.

The fact that the governor is more concerned about “mistreated” conservative hot-takers on ephemeral avenues like social media shows exactly why the Lone Star State’s leadership took so long — and did so little — to help its local populace this winter.