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Alabama Legislature to consider bill penalizing social media companies that censor speech

A bill is being sponsored by State Rep. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island) that would withdraw state tax abatements and other economic incentives from websites and social media companies that censor the speech of their users.

The legislation was prefiled last Thursday ahead of the Alabama Legislature’s 2021 regular session, which begins on Tuesday, February 2. There are already 10 House cosponsors listed on the bill, HB 213, which has been designated to be assigned to the Judiciary Committee.

Monikered as the “Anti-Censorship Act,” the legislation does allow speech inciting violence to be censored through an exemption.

“An individual or entity that operates a website providing a forum for comments or posts which receives any tax abatement, credit, or incentive of any kind from the state or a municipality or county may not censor any comment or post appearing on its website, with the exception of a comment or post that is an incitement to violence,” HB 213 states.

In a statement on Monday, Brown explained why he has introduced the bill.

“Rather than focusing solely upon posts and comments that pose a true danger to the public, social media platforms and other websites have used the recent change in presidential administrations as an excuse to censor and remove any speech that simply contradicts their privately-held political beliefs,” he lamented.

“Our nation was built upon a firm foundation of freedom of speech, and any company that seeks to erode that foundation must not be rewarded with tax breaks and other economic incentives,” Brown continued.

Under the provisions of HB 213, any entity or website that engages in censorship after already receiving economic incentives will be required to refund the incentives in their entirety. The bill would have the State of Alabama, as well as counties and municipalities, “adopt procedures for the review of complaints pertaining to violations” of the act.

“Citizens should not be required to pass a political purity test in order to post or comment on any public website,” Brown concluded. “Allowing ‘Big Tech’ billionaires and their employees to serve as speech police sets a dangerous and oppressive precedent that runs counter to the liberties that our Constitution and Bill of Rights guarantee us.”

Facebook recently completed construction of a $750 million data center in Huntsville. Previous reports indicate that the project received more than $92 million in state and municipal incentives.

Google and Amazon have major operations in Alabama, although the entities do not seem to fit the definition of websites that would fall under the jurisdiction of HB 213. However, Google also owns YouTube, which would fall under the Anti-Censorship Act’s parameters. Google’s data center in Jackson County has reportedly received significant state economic incentives since 2015.

Twitter does not have a physical location in the Yellowhammer State.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn