GA House committee holds hearing on social media censorship

State lawmakers held their first hearing Thursday on the issue of censorship on social media.

The debate has swirled for months after platforms like Twitter started flagging posts that contained disputed information or misinformation ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Members of the Georgia House Committee on Science and Technology heard testimony from James Taylor, the president of The Heartland Institute, a conservative-leaning non-profit group that advocates for "personal liberty and limited government."

"Many, many, many dozens of my Facebook friends have reported having information that has been blocked or censored," Taylor told the committee. "The sharing of information with each other as Georgians, as Americans, that is of the highest importance and must be protected."

Taylor argued the internet has become the new "town square" and that Americans have a right to share their ideas and opinions.

"Are you saying you have a Constitutional right to use Facebook and Twitter? Is that what you're saying here?" State Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs challenged.

The First Amendment is not all-encompassing and only protects citizens from the government infringing on their right to free speech.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

"These companies, whether we're talking about a big tech company or a small company, these are private businesses and these are not places of public accommodation," said State Rep. Beth Moore, D-Peachtree Corners.

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver called the hearing "a partisan discussion."

"We are here, in my personal opinion, because Facebook and Twitter have limited President Trump," Rep. Oliver said.

Facebook's board recently upheld the suspension of the former president from its platform and Twitter has banned Trump permanently.

Committee Chairman Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, however, said the issue is larger than that.

"This is way bigger than 2020," said Rep. Setzler. "Sometimes the attention on issues force[s] legislators to address things that should have been addressed much sooner. I will tell the lady that this committee perhaps should have been having this conversation in 2014, 2015."

"Let's work on this issue and let's ensure that it's something that's it's bigger than any one American or claim.  I don't want to allow this very important question to be swallowed by prominent issues that are not unimportant, but they're not central.  They're not a 10 or 20 or 30-year solution.  I think this is a multi-decade issue for us," Setzler continued.

The committee is not currently considering any legislation on the issue.

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