Bill takes aim at how social media companies moderate content

Critics say it's unconstitutional and could lead to lawsuits
Posted at 5:02 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 19:28:18-05

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Social media companies tend to moderate content to prevent misinformation and promote safety, but a Utah republican senator says his bill will make content moderation fairer for all Utahns wanting to express their opinions on public forums.

Spanish Fork Senator Mike McKell is running the Electronic Free Speech Amendments Bill (SB228), hoping it will force social media companies to be more transparent with how they moderate content on their platforms.

Critics of the bill say it's unconstitutional and violates the first amendment.

James Czerniawski, the Tech and Innovation Policy Analyst at the Libertas Institute said, "The reality is that content moderation falls underneath the area of editorial discretion, which is often and always consistently supported by the supreme court as well as protected underneath the first amendment."

The bill's sponsor disagrees.

"I think it’s the exact opposite. I think this protects the first amendment more than anything else. This is a free speech bill," said Sen. McKell.

Senate Bill 228 asks social media companies to do several things, including:

  • Provide clear information about their moderation practices
  • Give notice when action is taken against a Utah social media account holder
  • Give an opportunity for Utah social media account holders to appeal a decision to remove their content from the platform
  • Have an independent review board to look over moderation practices to see if they violate terms of service
  • Allow people to file complaints against social media companies with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection (UDCP)

The bill's sponsor said the Utah Attorney General would review complaints filed with the UDCP, and the Attorney General would have to bring an action against a social media company based on the terms of the bill's language.

Czerniawski said, "It will lead to a lawsuit, which will cost the Utah taxpayers millions of dollars for a law that we knew has these problems that should’ve been worked out, to begin with."

Senator McKell acknowledged that while a lawsuit could be filed over this bill, he said it would have to be used first.

The Spanish Fork senator also said he just wants to see equity and fairness across the board when it comes to social media companies moderating content, regardless of religious or political views.

"I think it’s just important to understand that sometimes when you pursue equitable policy decisions, it might result in inequitable solutions to all kinds of political thought and we should try to avoid this as much as humanly possible," said Czerniawski.

This bill would also require social media companies to clearly display their moderation practices once a year, which users would need to agree to in order to keep using the platform.

SB228 passed out of the Senate on March 1st, 2021 on a 21-6 vote and now heads to the Utah House.