Bill aimed at penalizing big-tech ‘censorship’ advances

By: - March 4, 2021 5:43 pm

The Iowa Court of Appeals has upheld an $11 million jury award in a libel case involving an Iowan who “doggedly and relentlessly” used Facebook and other social media tools to denigrate a former employer. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

A bill that would ban state or local government contracts or aid for large tech companies that censor online content advanced in the Iowa Legislature Thursday.

Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, managed Senate File 402. The bill would ban the state and local governments from having contracts with or offering aid to “certain companies that censor online content.” 

After the Board of Regents complained, Chapman said, the bill will be altered to make sure the three state universities don’t lose access to computers across campus and the systems that run boilers, scoreboards and other equipment. 

State Sen. Jake Chapman is a Republican from Adel. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Legislature)

Chapman said the bill is intended to prevent big tech companies from censoring points of view online. In one of the most prominent cases in the national censorship debate, former President Donald Trump was kicked off Twitter and other platforms after being accused of inciting riots and an attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook all have operations in Iowa.

“I would just say that we find ourselves in a different time and a different day in which big tech companies are using their unfettered power to restrict the ability of Iowans to voice their opinion, their thoughts, their feelings and otherwise be able to communicate with those who are their friends or otherwise,” Chapman told the Senate Commerce Committee. “It is deeply troubling to me that big tech has decided to go down this path of censorship … This is the time, more than ever, that we need to have respectful disagreements and conversations.”

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, and other Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee opposed the bill. 

“This business-busting bill has turned Iowa into a four-letter word,” Mathis said. “It effectively quotes a ‘closed for business’ sign on Iowa.”

Mathis said she believes the bill is an attempt to punish companies for taking down conservative political statements.

The bill advanced to the Senate floor on a party-line vote. A companion bill also passed the House Judiciary Committee.  

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.