The Washington Post

Out of power in Washington, Republican­s dial up tech offensive in state houses

- CRISTIANO LIMA cristiano.lima@washpost.com

Republican­s may be in the minority in the nation’s capital — but that’s not stopping them from pushing punitive new laws against social media companies over allegation­s of bias.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday signed into law a proposal to ban large social media platforms from blocking or taking down users’ posts based on their political viewpoints, a move that escalates the standoff between Silicon Valley giants and GOP officials at the state level.

“It is now law that conservati­ve viewpoints in Texas cannot be banned on social media,” Abbott said, as my colleague Cat Zakrzewski reported.

With Democrats controllin­g Congress and the White House, Republican­s have little-to-no options to meaningful­ly target the tech companies over accusation­s of censorship at the federal level.

But at the state level — where they hold full control of 23 state government­s to the Democrats’ 15 — GOP leaders are pressing their advantage to launch new attacks.

Fiercely opposed by the tech industry and questioned by legal experts, the Texas measure follows a similarly themed proposal signed into law in Florida in May that barred social media companies from banning politician­s during the lead up to an election.

Those state-level Gop-led measures stand in contrast to federal tech efforts, which have focused on alleged competitiv­e abuses and monopolist­ic behavior by the digital giants, claims which enjoy bipartisan support.

The Florida law was blocked in June by a federal judge who challenged its constituti­onality, a decision that came as a result of a lawsuit swiftly brought by tech trade groups against the law.

Texas’s new law is likely to face similar challenges from industry groups, who have already pilloried the measure as unconstitu­tional and argued it would cause harm online.

“By tying digital services’ hands, this unconstitu­tional law will put Texans at greater risk of exposure to disinforma­tion, propaganda and extremism,” said Matt Schruers, president of the trade associatio­n CCIA, which counts Facebook, Google and Twitter as members. “It’s neither good policy nor good politics for Texas to make the Internet a safe space for bad actors.”

Unless Republican­s regain some control in Washington during the 2022 and 2024 elections, however, their options are limited on the “bias” front, said Jon Schweppe, director of policy and government affairs at the conservati­ve-leaning American Principles Project.

“Conservati­ves are looking for a solution, and we’re not going to get it federally for a very long time,” he said. “So we’re kind of looking to states and the court as our only outs here.”

Even if the new Texas law is defeated, Schweppe argued that GOP officials can still benefit by pressing their case in the courts — where Republican­s sought to flood the zone during the Trump administra­tion with conservati­ve jurists — and trying different legal arguments to see if anything sticks. And he said the push could inspire other efforts around the country.

“If it was struck down or whatever, I think there would be people learning from that and looking to another state and trying it again, and again and again, until they’re successful,” he said.

The proposals also serve as red meat for a Republican base that is increasing­ly incensed at Silicon Valley companies who they say are censoring conservati­ves. That means even if their legislativ­e efforts get shot down by the courts, GOP leaders stand to benefit politicall­y and grow their national profiles by targeting industry giants.

It’s a growing trend. Ohio Senate hopeful J.D. Vance drew national attention recently for hammering Twitter for briefly suspending, and later reinstatin­g, his campaign’s press account. ( Twitter said the account was suspended in error, according to Bloomberg News.)

Blake Masters, a Senate candidate in Arizona and close ally to tech titan Peter Thiel, last week penned a scathing op-ed in the Wall Street Journal taking aim at social media companies he said “keep getting bigger, more powerful and more abusive.”

“It’s politicall­y beneficial to them,” Schweppe acknowledg­ed. “But I also think . . . if you fight for things that you believe in and fight for things that the base believes in, they reward you for it.”

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