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Controversial bill about things you post on social media coming back

Posted at 1:59 PM, May 07, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — A controversial bill cracking down on social media moderation policies that was vetoed by the governor is coming back.

Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, confirmed to FOX 13 that he has opened a bill file in the Utah State Legislature to bring it back. At its heart, the legislation demands that social media companies like Twitter and Facebook be more clear about their comment and posting moderation policies.

"I do think there’s content that should not be on Facebook. I do think there’s content that should not be on Twitter," Sen. McKell said. "But I think it’s fair for consumers to have an expectation of what the policy is for Facebook and Twitter in advance."

The original bill passed the Utah State Legislature earlier this year, but was vetoed by Governor Spencer Cox. While acknowledging concerns about social media "bias," the governor also had concerns about First Amendment legal challenges. Sen. McKell said he considered it a "friendly veto" and promised to keep working on the legislation.

"The bill that I had did not limit any type of content whatsoever, it was simply a transparency policy," Sen. McKell told FOX 13. "It required social media companies to be upfront about what their moderation practices are and it was a call for social media companies to be fair in the application of their own policies."

But the original bill also required social media companies to notify consumers when they were banned and why, allowed for someone to appeal it, and created a way for aggrieved Utah consumers to file complaints with the state against tech companies.

James Czerniawski with the Libertas Institute, a libertarian-leaning policy group, said a number of states are pursuing these types of bills following President Trump's removal from social media and a perception of bias against conservatives.

"Data that we know right now shows that conservatives are some of the top performers on social media websites and the reality is, when we’re thinking through this policy question it’s extraordinarily complicated," he said.

The Libertas Institute opposed the bill and has warned that such legislation could ultimately backfire.

"If you’re asking a social media company to moderate consistently and fairly and list out all the policies they’re going to take down content for and you’re putting liability on them, they’re going to opt for the solution that limits their liability as best they can," Czerniawski said. "That means less speech for you, for me, for everybody. That’s been one of the best things about the internet is it’s given voice to the voiceless."

Sen. McKell said President Trump getting kicked off social media is not his motive for the legislation, and he pointed out that Republicans and Democrats alike have raised concerns about Section 230, the federal law that deals with immunity for tech platforms that host third-party speech. The senator said he preferred Congress deal with it, but said his bill would advance the issue in Utah.

"I don’t think there’s fairness in how moderation policies have been applied," Sen. McKell said.

The bill will be heard by the legislature over the next few months, potentially returning for a vote in the 2022 session.