(The Center Square) – North Carolina legislative Republicans have proposed two bills that would allow North Carolinians to seek civil action if their social media posts are censored or apps are removed from the marketplace.
Sen. Ted Alexander, R-Cleveland, one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 497, said the legislation is a response to Facebook and Twitter blocking a New York Post article during the 2020 presidential election cycle.
Alexander said part of the federal Community Decency Act gives states the ability to block censorship abuse. SB 497 mirrors North Carolina law to the federal provision, which he said limits censorship in certain instances.
"It creates a civil reaction that can deter what we consider to be deceptive trade practices, false advertising, breach of contract and bad faith, an unfair dealing amongst social media, a fraudulent inducement and stifling of political and religious speech," Alexander said. "This is in the modern-day public digital square."
Twitter suspended The Post's account after it shared a story about President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, in October. It later blocked users from sharing the story. Facebook also restricted sharing of the story.
Twitter initially said the post violated its policy on hacked content, but company CEO Jack Dorsey later said the story should not have been blocked. Both companies launched campaigns to curtail misinformation during the 2020 election. Western North Carolina blogger Chad Nesbitt said Wednesday that Twitter continuously removed his content during the election.
SB 497 authorizes social media users 18 years and older to sue the company. If the attorney general does not file civil action against the social media company after 60 days, North Carolinians can sue the companies for deleting or censoring religious speech or political speech or using an algorithm to censure their posts. The bill allows the users to receive up to $75,000 in statutory damages and allows the judge to punish the social media company for the claim.
Social media posts that incite violence, are harmful to minors and others, involve criminal activity or a part of a court order would not be covered under SB 497, nor would spam or posts that violate trademark and copyright laws.
Rep. Jeff McNeely, R-Iredell, filed House Bill 494 after a tweet from his wife was blocked.
"At the time the election was going on. It said that 'no matter what happens here that I know my God is in charge,' " McNeely said. "It was very religious but very pure in thought, and after two days, it was taken down from her account."
HB 494 allows North Carolinians to seek legal action through the attorney general or on their own if apps with religious or political content are disabled or removed from digital marketplaces such as Apple or Google Play stores. It applies to digital platforms that make $10 million a year in sales.
Child safety groups and women's safety advocates have expressed opposition for the bills. Facebook Vice President of State Policy and Community Engagement Will Castleberry said the legislation could hinder online platforms' ability to remove harmful content, "such as pornography, bullying, hate speech and sexualized photos of minors."
"We will continue advocating for updated rules for the internet, including reforms to federal law that protect free expression while allowing platforms to remove content that threatens the safety and security of North Carolinians," Castleberry said in a statement.
Both bills must be reviewed in committees before being sent to the House and Senate for a full vote.
Twitter did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.