Nearly 20 states are working to allow anyone who has been kicked off a social media site because of his or her political or religious views to sue the social media company.
Republican and Democrat lawmakers from Delaware to Hawaii are sponsoring the Stop Social Media Censorship Act, legislation that would make any social media company with more than 75 million subscribers subject to a lawsuit if it deletes or censors any user for religious or political speech, or if it uses an algorithm that does the same thing.
"It levels the playing field," says attorney Chris Sevier, who wrote the model legislation. "It holds social media websites to higher disciplinary standards. Those social media websites have substantially, materially created a digital public square."
Until now, social media companies have been able to claim that as private entities, they are not subject to the First Amendment and can do whatever they want on their proprietary platform. While Sevier recognizes that is true, he notes that those companies are also businesses.
"The states have jurisdiction here to regulate this issue, because when a person in any of the states signs up to use Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, they are entering into a contract," Sevier points out. "States have paramount jurisdiction over contracts."
"When a user gets censored for religious [or] political reasons by Facebook, for example, it's an existing form of breach of contract," he continues. "It's bad faith, unfair dealing, false advertisement, [and] in some cases, unjust enrichment."
The bill mandates at least a $75,000 fine per violation, plus actual and punitive damages.