Another bill containing some bad ideas is being floated in the Arizona legislature. Rep. Bob Thorpe thinks social media companies are biased against conservatives and feels the best way to address this is to steamroll the Constitution and Section 230. (via Eric Goldman)
Thorpe’s bill [PDF] says it will turn platforms into publishers at the drop of a bias accusation:
Specifies a person who allows online users to upload publicly accessible content on the internet and who edits, deletes or makes it difficult for online users to locate and access the uploaded content in an easy or timely manner for politically biased reasons is:
a) Deemed to be a publisher;
b) Deemed to not be a platform; and
c) Liable for damages suffered by an online user because of the person’s actions, including damage for violations of rights guaranteed to the online user by the Federal or State Constitutions.
To be clear, there are no enshrined rights guaranteeing unimpeded use of private companies’ platforms or access to “uploaded content.” Writing a bill that proclaims there are doesn’t make the false assertion any more true. If platforms are perceived to be engaging in politically-motivated moderation, the bill allows the affected user (or state Attorney General) to engage in litigation that’s doomed to fail.
For someone so concerned about walled gardens of the political variety, Rep. Thorpe doesn’t seem all that interested in practicing what he’s preaching to his voter base. Thorpe’s Twitter account is protected, which means most constituents don’t have access to it and it allows him to pick and choose who gets to see his tweets.
This is only Thorpe’s latest attempt to adversely affect protections and rights while claiming to be very concerned about rights violations. Journalists and activists have already pointed out Thorpe’s tendency to block critics, all while claiming his account (@azrepbobthorpe) is for personal use, rather than for his legislative work. His bio points claims he’s a “Christian Constitutional Legislator,” but his account is an ongoing Constitutional violation.
In 2017, he introduced a bill that would violate First Amendment under the theory it would somehow make public universities more protective of the rights he’s undermining. Thorpe has a problem with any “divisive” speech — especially the kind that might come from teachers and professors who might — as the bill put it — “promote division, resentment or social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class or other class of people.” As Fire noted then, Thorpe’s proposed government interference in classroom instruction would only harm the First Amendment, not save it.
Prohibiting instructors from teaching particular perspectives or topics is precisely the kind of content- and viewpoint-based restriction forbidden under the First Amendment. This does not change even if someone on campus might deem those perspectives or topics likely “to promote social justice, division, or resentment.” In practice, this legislation would confer unfettered discretion on campus administrators to shut down discussion on nearly any subject.
During the next legislative session, Bob Thorpe proposed another free speech-threatening bill that suggested free-market capitalism should be shielded from criticism.
This week, Arizona Rep. Bob Thorpe (R – Flagstaff) introduced a bill that would designate “American free-market capitalism” the state’s official “political-economic system”, and declares the legislature’s intent “that taxpayer dollars not be used to promote or to provide material support for any political-economic system that opposes the principles of free-market capitalism.”
Thorpe thinks he’s a free speech warrior. But all he does is try to erect content-based restrictions on speech — the kind of thing no court has been sympathetic to. As Reason noted, the bill was stupid political point-scoring bullshit that had zero chance of surviving even the most cursory Constitutional glance..
For starters, the bill contains a naked content-based restriction on the use of taxpayer dollars to promote something other than “free-market capitalism”. From what activities Thorpe would want to yank state support is not entirely clear; his bill says only that it would include the promotion of “socialism, communism, and fascism.”
Over at the Phoenix New Times, Antonia Noori Farzan notes that “taken to an extreme, it could potentially mean that state universities would be banned from providing any resources to campus chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America.” Depending on your definition of free-market, the bill could be used to deny resources to college Democrat and Republican chapters too.
The good times roll on. Bob Thorpe is finally winding down his state house career, exiting his unstoried seven-term career with another stupid bill that ignores the Constitution in favor of allowing people who don’t understand Section 230 or the First Amendment feel like their grievances are being redressed.
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