Senator Seeks Regulation Of Hate Speech On Social Media

Originally published in Jamestown Post-Journal on February 13, 2021.

New York is the latest state to consider laws that would require social media companies to provide and maintain a way for people to report hate speech on their platforms.

 

State Sen. Anna Kaplan, D-Carle Place, recently introduced S.4511 to add a new section to the state’s General Business Law. It defines hate speech as a public expression, either verbally, in writing or through images, which intentionally makes a statement about a group of persons because of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity or physical, mental or intellectual disability.

Social media networks would be required to maintain a way for individual users to report and make complaints of hate speech. Such mechanisms would have to be clearly accessible to users and must be easily accessed from both apps and websites Each social media network will also have to create a clear and concise policy which includes how a social media network will respond and address incidents of hate speech which have been reported. That policy would have to include a way to provide a direct response to an individual who has reported possible hate speech and how the matter is being handled.

“This legislation is part of a package aimed at addressing concerns about misinformation that is spread on social media networks,” Kaplan wrote in her legislative justification. “New Yorkers are all familiar with the expression ‘If you see something, say something,’ but unfortunately many virtual social media platforms make the process of ‘saying something’ confusing at best, and impossible at worst. This legislation seeks to empower users of social media to keep virtual spaces safer for all by providing clear and consistent reporting mechanisms for instances of hate speech.”

Kaplan’s legislation has been referred to the Senate’s Information and Technology Committee.

Several states have introduced legislation that moves in another direction by trying to prevent social media sites from censoring conservative opinions.

An Oklahoma state senator has introduced Senate Bill 383 that would punish social media websites that purposely delete or censor a social media website user’s political or religious speech or use an algorithm to suppress political or religious speech. That legislation also says a social media site cannot use a user’s “alleged hate speech as a basis for justification or defense to the action against the social media website at trial.”

Similar legislation has been introduced in Kentucky, where Senate Bill 111 would make a user entitled to damages if a social media platform deletes or censors religious or political posts. If sued, the bill says, platforms would be expressly prohibited from justifying their actions by claiming a user posted “hate speech.” In the bill, “hate speech” is defined as “a phrase concerning content that an individual finds offensive based on his or her personal moral code.” SB 111 carves out a few exceptions of content that could still be deleted, including that which “calls for immediate acts of violence” and “incites criminal conduct.”

And, Florida legislators are asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to divest the state’s pension fund of any stock it has in Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple and Google while legislation has been introduced requiring social media sites to give 30-day notice to a user whose account has been disabled or suspended and explain why the user was punished.