Brief: ‘Stop Social Media Censorship Act’ stalled in Senate

Update: The bill’s author deferred a vote on it Wednesday, failing to secure a 20th vote for passage.

A bill that would make social media platforms liable for civil damages if they “censor” a Louisiana user’s posts fell one vote short of passage in the Senate Tuesday afternoon.

SB196 by Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, titled the “Stop Social Media Censorship Act,” received 19 ayes and 18 nays, but a majority of 20 votes in the 39-member body is required for passage. The bill is up for reconsideration Wednesday. The two missing members were a Democrat and a Republican, Mike Fesi of Houma, who may or may not provide the deciding vote. Seven Republicans joined 11 Democrats in voting nay.

A Louisianan could sue a social media website if it “deletes or censors the user’s religious speech or political speech” or “uses an algorithm to disfavor or censor the user’s religious speech or political speech.”

The bill has been championed by conservatives who say tech giants like Facebook and Twitter are unfairly policing conservative speech. Copies of the bill have been filed all over the country.

Model language for the bill was created by Chris Sevier, an anti-LGBTQ activist and lawyer behind legal stunts like trying to marry his computer as a protest against same-sex marriage and suing Apple for his porn addiction. Sevier represented religious extremists Warriors for Christ in its suit over a Drag Queen Story Time event planned at the Lafayette Public Library.

The bill would not protect “hate speech,” obscenity as defined by law or incitement to violence. The company could be liable for up to $75,000 in actual damages.

Republican Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette and Republican Sen. Bob Hensgens, whose District 26 encompasses Vermilion and western Lafayette parishes, voted for the bill. Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, a Democrat whose District 24 overlaps Lafayette and St. Landry parishes, voted no. One of the two absent senators Tuesday was Republican Mike Fesi of Houma, who has tested positive for Covid.