According to Dr. Mark Steffen, the Republican State Senator from Hutchinson who is sponsoring the bill, his measure takes a unique approach to work around the Section 230 federal protections social media companies enjoy.
The Social Media Anti-Censorship Bill” SB187 targets the terms of service everyone agrees to — generally without having read them — when they create an account, under the Kansas Consumer Protection Act.
“We all know how federal politics goes and getting that liability protection removed isn’t going to happen anytime soon,” Steffen said. “I knew that North Dakota had put out a bill trying to accomplish this.
“So I looked at it and studied it and got with the Kansas Revisor’s office and we put our heads together and came up with a different approach.”
That different approach, in a nutshell, is to make the social media companies put together a user agreement that does not censor political opinion or expression, and which would allow the Kansas Attorney General to sue the offending company for violations, as well as allow private individuals to seek relief.
The legislation is also careful to carve out only political speech as protected on the various platforms.
“No contract between an interactive computer service and a person that contains the terms of service for use of a social media website operated by such service shall include any provisions that authorize such service to restrict, censor or suppress information that does not pertain to obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable subject matter. For purposes of this section, the terms ‘harassing’ and ‘objectionable subject matter’ do not include content that provides political information or expression.”
Fines could be as high as $10,000 per violation.
Social media censorship legislation in other states
Steffen acknowledges there’s a certain degree of tilting at the federal windmill with this, as this is something of a “gray area,” and that tech companies are unlikely to draft terms of service documents tailored to individual jurisdictions.
However, he said, he is reaching out to legislators in other states to attempt to spread the idea further.
“We know that North Dakota is working on it, we know that Florida is working on it,” he said. “I’m working to spread this to all states. Right now my target is all states that have a Republican governor and Republican-controlled house and senate. It’s going to take a whole bunch of states pushing back and I would like for them to be doing it via a similar pathway.”
Steffen said that ultimately he believes social media censorship legislation should be a bipartisan effort.
“Right now that gun may be pointed at me as a conservative, but someday that gun is going to be pointed at (liberals) and (they’re) not going to like that any better than I do.
“So it behooves us to work together and I really do think in Kansas we have the ability to do that.”