Testimony Before the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs on Senate Bill 1158 Relating to State Contracts with and Investments in Social Media Companies That Censor Political Speech

Published April 6, 2021

The Heartland Institute

April 6, 2021

Chairman Hughes and Members of the Committee: 

Thank you for holding a hearing on Senate Bill 1158, legislation intended to challenge Big Tech when they outright choose to censor Texans based on Political Speech.

My name is Samantha Fillmore, and I am a State Government Relations Manager at The Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute is a 37-year-old independent, national, nonprofit organization and our mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. Heartland is headquartered in Illinois and focuses on providing elected officials on all levels reliable and timely research on important policy issues such as big tech censorship.

This year we have seen 59 pieces of legislation in 30 states all attempting to challenge big tech censorship. The volume of bills across the nation is indicative of the fact that many Americans recognize we are entering into a dangerous period for political free speech.

In the blink of an eye, the emergence of social media platforms has elevated the national conversation and political discourse to a size and scope nearly unimaginable a decade ago. The associated emerging technologies and mediums promised democratization of free speech in a way never dreamed of. Free speech and political activism, once the realm of partisans and professional pundits, was accessible such that people who were once spectators were now engaged.

However, this mass communication network is managed by a handful of powerful tech titans, who are protected from liability and operate as monopolies. The consolidation of this power to these titans has now effectively erased the empowerment of millions of Americans and their newfound voices.

Where it has empowered voices and people across the political spectrum, it has also empowered the voices that seek to divide us, misinform us, and manipulate us. I would like to tell you that the very platforms on which those messages are spread have been fair and impartial, yet the truth is that they haven’t been.

The number of social network users worldwide reached 3.6 billion in 2020 and is projected to increase to 4.41 billion by 2025. This phenomenon was further exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The Harris Poll conducted in the spring of 2020 found that between 46 and 51 percent of U.S. adults were using social media at higher rates than pre-pandemic. In addition, U.S. social network ad spending is projected to rise 21.3 percent from the already staggering $40 billion spent in 2020.

All of these astounding statistics provide ample evidence that social networks have become so much more than a host for expression, memes, and life updates among friends and family. In today’s world, the social network has become a major sector of the United States economy, influencing corporate successes and failures.

SB 1158 would provide Texas lawmakers with the tools necessary to ensure that big tech platforms do not unduly threaten Texans’ free speech. SB 1158 would allow Texas governmental entities to send a clear message to big tech: Censorship of free speech will not be tolerated in the Lone Star State.

Under current federal law, social media companies are insulated from liability and allowed to censor free speech due to the notorious Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. SB 1158 would address issues related to social media censorship by enabling the attorney general to prepare and maintain a list of companies that censor political speech and to prohibit state governmental entities from investing in such companies.

Senate Bill 1158 would ensure all Texans’ free speech rights remain protected. Regardless of whether or not it becomes law, it should spur a long-overdue national debate on big tech censorship

This legislation would inject autonomy back into the state level for Texas lawmakers and constituents alike.

So here we are today, challenging the behavior of Big Tech for Texans. It is evident that big tech has been less than transparent and lacks respect for the moral responsibilities that it has as a primary outlet for political discourse in our nation and the dissemination of information of public import.

Senate Bill 1158 is good legislation, which should also spur a state-based and national debate on the role of Big Tech in our civic conversations. Voting for this bill will send the message to Texans the message that clear and robust public debate is sacred and any action or failure to act to ensure a robust debate will be met with hard questions, and if necessary, enabling policies.

Finally, I would like to submit to you that on the issue of Freedom of Speech, more speech is always the answer, never less.

Thank you for your time today.

For more information about The Heartland Institute’s work, please visit our websites at www.heartland.org or http:/news.heartland.org, or call Samantha Fillmore at 312/377-4000. You can reach Samantha Fillmore by email at [email protected].