Regulating social media? A new bill introduced in Tennessee hopes to treat social media like common carriers.

Regulating social media? A new bill introduced in Tennessee hopes to treat social media like common carriers.

By FOCUS, a Leonine Business

 

Tennessee Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, has introduced HB 2369, a bill that would, in effect, make censorship of social media illegal. Following some accusations of censorship from some national conservatives following the removal of former President Donald Trump and some other conservatives on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, Tennessee is moving to make it more difficult for social media platforms to censor, remove, or hide public figures or average citizens who may have violated social media policies.

According to its summary, HB 2369 “designates social media platforms as common carriers and requires the entities to obtain certificates of public convenience and necessity from the Tennessee public utilities commission; prescribes fines against social media platforms that deplatform and shadow ban users based on political ideology, viewpoint, or personal animus, or discrimination based on race, creed, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin.”

According to HB 2369, de-platforming means “the action or practice by a social media platform to permanently delete or ban a user, or to temporarily delete or ban a user, from the social media platform for more than 21 consecutive days.” Shadow banning means “an action by a social media platform, whether the action is determined by a natural person or an algorithm, to limit or eliminate the exposure of a user or content or material posted by a user to other users of the social media platform.”

It would be up to the Tennessee public utility commission to investigate these actions and then award damages to those who had been “illegally” removed or shadow banned. If the commissioner found that they had been removed, the commissioner could award damages up to $25,000 a day for those who are not a candidate for public office, and $100,000 a day for a candidate or a public official. A person who had been shadow banned or removed could then sue for further damages.

This bill would achieve all of this by treating social media like “common carriers”, a concept where transportation companies were given non-discrimination requirements after victimizing customers. Some believe the idea of pursuing social media common carriers is misguided. According to aei.org, “Social media companies do not have common-carrier business models…they are more like meeting places than carriers and differ in their promises and cultures that they promote.” Which means the legal justification may not hold up to the rules that are hoped to be created with this bill.

Whether this bill, if it were to become law, would change the greater policies of social media platforms like Twitter remains to be seen. If it were to take effect it would only affect social media users of Tennessee. However, other Republican-led states could introduce similar legislation.