Gov. Spencer Cox vetoes ‘Electronic Free Speech Amendments’

Gov. Spencer J. Cox. File photo:

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, March 23, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — Gov. Spencer Cox announced late Tuesday afternoon that he is vetoing SB 228, after it was approved by both the Utah House and Senate during the 2021 Utah Legislature.

The bill, known as the “Electronic Free Speech Amendments,” was designed to force social media outlets, like Facebook and Twitter, to provide their reasoning for moderating and removing what they deem to be false or misleading content from their platforms.

SB 228’s sponsor, State Sen. Mike McKell, (R) – Spanish Fork, has called the measure a “free speech bill” that would hold social media companies liable for infringing upon users First Amendment rights. Under the bill, failure to do so would have created a pathway for legal action against the social media giants via Utah’s Division of Consumer Protection and ultimately the Attorney General’s office.

Critics of SB 228 say it is anything but a free speech bill, citing private companies’ rights to control their own forums as expressed in their terms of use. Critics also claim the bill was a reaction to social media outlets dumping the likes of Donald Trump and Parler for spreading unfounded conspiracy theories surrounding the election and COVID-19.

Cox announced the decision to veto S.B. 228 Electronic Free Speech Amendments after consulting “the Senate President, Speaker of the House and the bill’s sponsors,” according to a Wednesday afternoon press release. “After conversations with the legislative and executive branches, this action was jointly determined as the best path forward due to technical issues. Censorship by tech companies is a serious concern, and this action will not hinder nor prevent Utah from finding the right policy solution.

“The sponsors of this bill have raised valid questions about the impact social media platforms can have on public discourse and debate,” Cox said. “Our country continues to grapple with very real and novel issues around freedom of speech, the rights of private companies and the toxic divisiveness caused by these new forms of connection, information and communication. While I have serious concerns about the bill, I appreciate the willingness of the bill’s sponsors to continue to seek a better solution. Utah must be a leader in this space and I look forward to engaging with legislators and social media companies to address these legitimate concerns.”

McKell said Wednesday he intends to open a new bill file on May 5, 2021, to address censorship issues. He said the policy in the new bill will be determined after listening and consulting with stakeholders, lawmakers and the Executive Branch.

“I appreciate the commitment from stakeholders who have agreed to work with the Legislature to craft a better solution that will increase transparency within social media corporations,” McKell said. “Censorship practices are un-American and likely unconstitutional. In Utah, we defend the right to freely express opinions and views, regardless of political or religious affiliation. The outcome of S.B. 228 is not ideal; however, the issue of free speech and online censorship remains a priority and policy will continue to be refined throughout interim.”


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