BISMARCK — The North Dakota House of Representatives has advanced a bill that would prohibit prominent social media platforms from censoring residents of the state.
The Republican-dominated lower chamber voted 73-21 to send House Bill 1144 to the Senate for consideration.
The proposal would bar social media sites with more than 150 million active users from censoring North Dakotans' posts based on race, religion or viewpoint. The bill would also open up social media companies to civil lawsuits from residents who believe they've been blacklisted from the sites.
The legislation comes as conservative politicians and pundits accuse popular sites like Twitter and Facebook of suppressing their perspectives through targeted censoring. Both sites banned former President Donald Trump last month, saying his posts violated their terms of service by inciting the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol.
Rep. Terry Jones, a New Town Republican, said "censorship is a strong weapon for good or evil, and we need to get a handle on this."
Jones said similar legislation is being considered in a handful of other states, but he noted the version presented to lawmakers Monday is unfinished and will need to undergo some remodeling in the Senate.
Opponents of the bill and First Amendment experts said the legislation wouldn't hold up in court because freedom of speech doesn't apply to users of private websites. They argued social media users who are censored or banned have willingly agreed to the sites' terms of service that explicitly say users can be booted for certain types of behavior.
For example, Twitter's rules state the site has "a zero tolerance policy against violent threats," and a tweet may be removed if it "includes a declarative call to action that could harm a specific individual or group." The company's terms of service also specify that a user's account may be terminated "at any time for any or no reason."