Testimony from:
Marc Hyden, Director, State Government Affairs, R Street Institute

In OPPOSITION of SB 393, “Common Carrier Non-Discrimination Act”

March 23, 2022

House Judiciary Committee

Chairman and members of the committee,

My name is Marc Hyden. I am a Georgia resident and the director of state government affairs for the R Street Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government in many areas, including technology policy. This is why SB 393 is of special interest to us.

First and foremost, the R Street Institute entirely agrees with the bill author that “each person in this state has a fundamental interest in the free exchange of ideas and information, including, but not limited to, the freedom of others to share and receive ideas and information, regardless of their religious, political, or social beliefs or affiliations.” Like the author, I am deeply concerned about reports of politically biased moderation on online social media platforms and believe that such companies ought not censor users or posts based on “religious, political, or social beliefs or affiliations.” However, I worry that SB 393 is not the answer to these problems.

By preventing social media platforms from moderating content—except that which is considered illegal, “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, or harassing”—Georgia would set the stage for a deluge of frivolous lawsuits against social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and former President Donald J. Trump’s Truth Social. If enacted, this would encourage users—whether wrongly or rightly censored—to claim that they were illegally targeted, and they will in turn take their complaints to court, spurring expensive lawsuits. This would levy a massive cost on social media platforms, as they defend themselves from frivolous lawsuits, and on the judicial system. This will force the courts to determine what is lewd speech versus what is political speech—as the government becomes the arbiter of what speech is and is not permissible on social media.

Secondly, this proposal could make Georgia the spam and disinformation capital of the world. Since some forms of spam and disinformation would be protected under this language—so long as it is not harassment, illegal or obscene—social media platforms would not be able to self-police content that originated in Georgia. Thus, such spam and disinformation campaigns would likely begin to center in Georgia and use the Peach State as a launching point for their operations to reach other states.

As we have all witnessed in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, social media has voluntarily striven to remove and ban Russian disinformation. [1] However, under the current language, I worry that social media companies would not be able to do this anymore so long as Russia found a way to use Georgia as the point of dissemination. This would not be particularly difficult or illegal. They would simply have to find a Georgian willing to post Russian propaganda or use a Virtual Private Network to make users appear as though they are operating in Georgia. Along the same vein, social media platforms could not work against Russian interference in elections so long as their activities were deemed political speech that somehow originated—or appeared to originate—here. It is worth noting that Russians have previously attempted to disrupt our elections and used social media as one of their tools. [2]

I am a firm supporter of freer markets and limited, effective government, and I believe that this bill works against those ideals and instead interposes government into private business decisions. Again, I share many of the author’s concerns, and while I do not think that this bill is the answer, I would encourage lawmakers to form a study committee to review the issue in detail to determine how free market principles and incentives can create a better online environment that respects individual expression.

Thank you,

Marc Hyden
Director, State Government Affairs
R Street Institute
(404) 918-2731
[email protected]

[1] Dan Milmo, “Facebook takes down Ukraine disinformation network and bans Russian-backed media,” The Guardian, Feb. 28, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/feb/28/facebook-takes-down-disinformation-network-targeting-ukraine-meta-instagram.

[2] Young Mie Kim, “New Evidence Shows How Russia’s Election Interference Has Gotten More Brazen,” Brennan Center for Justice, March 5, 2020. https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/new-evidence-shows-how-russias-election-interference-has-gotten-more.