Testimony Before the Maine Judiciary Committee on LD 1609 in Reference to Prohibiting Certain Social Media Censorship
State Government Relations Manager Samantha Fillmore Testifies Before the Maine Joint Judiciary Committee on LD 1609 Regarding Big Tech Censorship
The Heartland Institute
May 12, 2021
Chairmen Carney, Harnett, and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for holding a hearing on Legislative Document 1609, legislation that provides Maine citizens a private cause of action in court when they have been censored or “de-platformed” on the various social media platforms that have become omnipresent in contemporary political speech.
My name is Samantha Fillmore, and I am a State Government Relations Manager at The Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute is a 37-year-old independent, national, nonprofit organization and our mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. Heartland is headquartered in Illinois and focuses on providing elected officials on all levels reliable and timely research on important policy issues such as big tech censorship.
In the blink of an eye, the emergence of social media platforms has elevated the national conversation and political discourse to a size and scope nearly unimaginable a decade ago. The associated emerging technologies and mediums promised democratization of free speech in a way never dreamed of. Free speech and political activism, once the realm of partisans and professional pundits, was accessible such that people who were once spectators were now engaged.
However, this mass communication network is managed by a handful of powerful tech titans, who are protected from liability and operate as monopolies. The consolidation of this power to these titans has now effectively erased the empowerment of millions of Americans and their newfound voices.
Where it has empowered voices and people across the political spectrum, it has also empowered the voices that seek to divide us, misinform us, and manipulate us. I would like to tell you that the very platforms on which those messages are spread have been fair and impartial, yet the truth is that they haven’t been.
The number of social network users worldwide reached 3.6 billion in 2020 and is projected to increase to 4.41 billion by 2025. This phenomenon was further exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The Harris Poll conducted in the spring of 2020 found that between 46 and 51 percent of U.S. adults were using social media at higher rates than pre-pandemic. In addition, U.S. social network ad spending is projected to rise 21.3 percent from the already staggering $40 billion spent in 2020.
All of these astounding statistics provide ample evidence that social networks have become so much more than a host for expression, memes, and life updates among friends and family. In today’s world, the social network has become a major sector of the United States economy, influencing corporate successes and failures.
Along with influencing streams of revenue we have seen more clearly than ever that social media platforms have the ability to impact and even guide the social discourse.
So here we are today, challenging the behavior of Big Tech for your constituents. It is evident that big tech has been less than transparent and lacks respect for the moral responsibilities that it has as a primary outlet for political discourse in our nation and the dissemination of information of public import.
This Act to Stop Social Media Censorship addresses censorship/silencing that is based on a user’s religious or political free speech as well as political or religious expression censored by algorithms used by big tech with keywords used as flags to de-platform individuals. Consequently, the bill lists that a social media website may not be found liable if the individual did not adhere to commonsense Good Samaritan guidelines such as calling for immediate acts of violence, using obscenities, and posts that are pornographic in nature, as well as other provisions.
Most interestingly, in a civil action brought under LD 1609, a social media website user could be awarded $75,000 if they have been found to be truly censored for their political or religious speech. This figure is paramount when it comes to subject matter jurisdiction. Residents of Maine as well as residents of most states considering similar legislation do not live in the state in which these tech giants are headquartered. This would mean any civil action under this type of legislation is a diversity of citizenship case. Federal district courts have subject matter jurisdiction if the plaintiff asks for at least $75,000 in damages.
Legislative Document 1609 is good legislation, which should also spur a state-based and national debate on the role of Big Tech in our civic conversations. Allowing a private cause of action in courts is perhaps the tool policymakers need to give to Mainers such that the message is clear that robust public debate is sacred and any action or failure to act to ensure a robust debate will be met with hard questions, and if necessary, enabling policies.
Everyone has a right to voice their opinion, regardless of whether or not a few tech titans agree with their views. More speech, not less speech, is always better in a free society.
Thank you for your time today.
For more information about The Heartland Institute’s work, please visit our websites at www.heartland.org or http:/news.heartland.org, or call Samantha Fillmore at 312/377-4000. You can reach Samantha Fillmore by email at SFillmore@heartland.org.