The Big Sky Public Policy Institute is pleased to announce two bills that will be sponsored by Rep. Lola Sheldon Galloway (HD22), designed to protect Montanans’ free speech and protect the state’s residents from unfair practices on the part of Big Tech firms designed to silence voices of dissent.
Although the titles of the bills are currently unknown to the Institute, and they are still in drafts, it is known what the two pieces of legislation will be designed to accomplish. Both bills are necessary to protect free expression.
America has watched Big Tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, and Apple place a stranglehold on free speech and conspire together to silence minority (and in some cases, majority) opinions. Although many states like North Dakota, Texas, and Florida have proposed legislation to curtail unfair censorship policies and nearly two-dozen attorneys general have begun an anti-trust lawsuit against Facebook and Twitter, the bills proposed by Galloway seem particularly ingenius.
Montana’s railroad industry prompted the creation of the Montana Public Service Commission, which was created to ensure that taxpayers were being treated fairly by the rail industry. Historically speaking, the need for governmental intervention was caused by railroads favoring certain merchants more than others, providing an unfair market for goods in the Montana frontier. In recent years, the PSC has focused on energy companies and their relationship with rate-payers.
However, the parallels between Big Tech censorship and their viewpoint discrimination toward media consumers are deep and notable. Big Tech companies, like Facebook and Twitter, are immune to lawsuits regarding content, going back to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (1996). This legal caveat protects Big Tech companies from being sued when someone misuses their service, in the same way that local Internet Service Providers aren’t held liable if one of their customers misuses their Internet access to abuse others.
Since 1996, Big Tech companies have acted like utilities that do not discriminate against their customers, but this has changed in recent years. As we have all recently seen, Big Tech has taken it upon themselves to censor content, news, and opinions from sources that contradict their corporate positions. In this sense, Big Tech firms who censor content are acting not like utilities at all, but like publishers.
The problem for Big Tech is, publishers are held liable for their content.
The solution in Montana is simple: If Big Tech companies want to maintain their right to censor, they should forgo the liability immunity they enjoyed as utilities. However, if Big Tech wants to maintain liability immunity as utilities, they should be regulated by the Public Service Commission.
Galloway’s first piece of legislation, reportedly, will do just that…require Big Tech to be regulated under the assumption that the PSC will not let them censor Montana’s diverse voices. Or, Big Tech can instead argue that they are not a utility at all, contingent upon them forgoing liability immunity from lawsuits.
The second bill from Galloway will forbid the State of Montana from using public tax dollars to engage in business with Big Tech, should those corporations continue to censor Montana voices.
While it is true that the Montana legislature cannot change the corporate censorship policies of Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter by the power of legislative fiat, it is also true that the legislature can forbid expenditures to any of these companies – and many others – that stifle free speech or censor their customers. It is perfectly within the right of the legislature, which control’s the state’s purse strings, to deny business to corporations that muzzle our state’s million residents.
The Big Sky Public Policy Institute would like to commend Rep. Galloway for taking on these important issues, as well as PSC Commissioner, Randy Pinocci, who was first to speak out publicly on the necessity for such laws.
Please contact your legislators and ask them to support these two upcoming bills for the good of Montana and its many diverse voices.