By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A measure aimed at preventing internet companies such as Twitter and Facebook from blocking certain opinions was killed in a House committee Monday as members expressed concern about the government telling businesses what they can do.
Senate File 100 was defeated by a vote of 3-6 in the House Judiciary Committee after members questioned whether the state should tell private companies how to moderate comments on their sites.
“What this is is the government telling companies what they can and cannot do,” said Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton. “It seems to be the opposite, conceptually, when we’re in this area of the First Amendment.”
The bill would prohibit interactive internet companies such as Twitter and Facebook from discriminating against a person who posted a message based on “viewpoint, race, religion and location.” Any person who believes a company violated the rule could seek compensation of $50,000.
Harriet Hageman, an attorney with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, said there have been examples of some statements being removed from social media, such as those from people who believe there were irregularities in the 2020 election. She also pointed to larger companies blocking access to a social media company popular conservatives.
Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, said because such companies hold what amounts to a monopoly over social media, they should be regulated to guarantee residents are treated fairly.
“When you have a company that is basically a monopoly … you can regulate them or go for an anti-trust remedy,” she said. “And it’s an obligation of the government to protect our citizens when a company gets too large and too monopolistic.”
But several members of the committee noted that while guarantees of free speech exist in public spaces, those same protections do not exist in private businesses.
“My understanding is this is simply a matter of whether it is the public square or not,” said committee chair Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne. “Are we saying that Facebook ought to be the public square?”
The bill was opposed by several internet organizations, such as NetChoice and the Internet Association, which also questioned the state’s ability to dictate to private businesses.
Mike Smith, a representative for the Internet Association, noted Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment does not apply to private companies.
“This idea that the First Amendment applies to private property is kind of a dangerous one and one I wouldn’t want us to go down,” he said.