Arkansas Bill Addresses “Unfair” Social Media Censorship

The Natural State is considering a new piece of legislation that would hold social media companies accountable for "unfairly censoring or banning someone."

The Arkansas Unfair Social Media Censorship Act would make sites like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook liable for damages if they remove content for "dubious or pretextual" reasons that are inconsistent with their own terms of service. 

Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge said: "This legislation would allow everyone, no matter the circumstances, to have an equal and fair opportunity to post online. And if a social media giant does not comply, the company can be held accountable.”

Rutledge added that the proposed bill was introduced to "combat cancel culture"—the ostracism of an individual or organization deemed to have acted or spoken in a controversial manner. 

“Cancel culture cannot become the norm in Arkansas, especially when our Freedom of Speech in rural America is in jeopardy," she said.

Currently, websites have the ability to regulate content from users on their platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Under the terms of the proposed legislation, social media companies could face fines if they violate the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by censoring, deleting, or labelling speech, including religious or political language, without acting in good faith. 

In Arkansas, each violation of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act can result in injunctions and civil penalties of up to $10,000.

The Bill would not prevent social media sites from acting in good faith to remove content that is believed to be promoting terrorism or that includes violent or obscene material such as content related to child sexual abuse or human trafficking. 

“This bill is a great step forward in holding these organizations accountable and lessening the bias enforced by operators of the systems," Brandon Hoffman, CISO at Netenrich, told Infosecurity Magazine. "However, it remains unclear who would get to rule in judgment in these cases." 

Pondering how social media companies may respond if the Act passes into law, Hoffman said: "They may simply introduce a notion of banning and content removal that prevents this law from being enacted. If that happens then users will have to decide whether or not to abandon said platform.”

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