The bill arose from complaints that Facebook and Twitter restricted conservative views by deleting posts that the companies considered false or misleading, especially on the topics of election fraud and COVID-19.
Democrats opposing the legislation said it could violate companies’ free speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and run afoul of a federal law that regulates internet publishers.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Greg Dolezal, said social media should be treated like cable and phone companies that are open to the general public without making subjective judgments about content.
“What we are stating here is that you cannot be discriminated against for your viewpoint, for your gender, for your age ... in this 21st century public square,” said Dolezal, a Republican from Cumming. “What you’ve seen is numerous examples of social media companies violating the rights of those people to express those opinions online.”
Republican-led legislators in Florida and Texas have also passed measures regulating social media companies, but courts have put those measures on hold.
An opponent of the bill, state Sen. Jen Jordan, said that while social media companies are “out of control,” a federal law passed in 1996, the Communications Decency Act, protects websites from most lawsuits.
“We’ve seen its effect on elections. We’ve seen Russian propaganda used against us to try to pit each of us against each other,” said Jordan, a Democrat from Atlanta. “I share the concerns, believe me. ... But this really isn’t the way to do it.”
The bill would cover social media companies with over 20 million users in the United States, declaring that they can’t block messages based on their viewpoints, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.
Social media companies would still be able to censor harassment, incitement of violence and obscenity, according to the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan said Americans shouldn’t face limitations for expressing beliefs.
“Georgia is about to be the first state in the nation to empower users of social media platforms,” said Dugan, a Republican from Carrollton. “By passing SB 393, we are ensuring Georgians are not unfairly targeted for their personal ideologies.”