“I know you’re watching.”
That’s how Iowa Republican Sen. Jake Chapman addressed Silicon Valley tech executives, his gaze deadpan to the center of the Senate live-stream lens. It was during his closing remarks Wednesday afternoon on a bill he authored that curbs tax cuts for big technology companies in the state if they “censor” speech.
Chapman was just one of the GOP legislators who took to the chamber floor before the bill passed the Senate 30-17, asserting their moral and spiritual responsibility to crack down on what they think are international bad actors in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Meanwhile, they rejected a Democratic-proposed amendment that could halt promotion of insurrections and hate speech on social media.
“You perhaps are the most powerful corporations in the history of mankind,” Chapman said. “And perhaps you are today’s Goliath. And perhaps Iowa is only a small David.”
“But let me predict. You will fall. It may not be with this bill, admittedly, we don’t know what this bill will—if it will eventually become law. But the time will come where you will fall. And the reason why is because Americans, Iowans value their freedom.”
Co-authored by 30 of the Iowa Senate’s 32 Republicans, the bill prohibits social media platforms and tech companies from banning “constitutionally protected speech”—particularly, conservative speech—online.
“So enjoy your money, enjoy your wealth, enjoy your wall that you built around your compound in Hawaii, Mark Zuckerberg, as long as you can. Because it is time for you to pay up,” said Republican Sen. Zach Whiting. “Don’t censor and discriminate against viewpoint and content, and you don’t lose anything. It’s that simple.”
Democrats took a less esoteric stance, warning that the legislation would stifle economic and community development in the state by coercing these wealthy companies into litigation, forcing them to take business elsewhere.
Under the bill, any Iowan could make a complaint to the Iowa Attorney General if they feel they’d been censored on a platform. If the court rules the citizen’s speech was protected, technology companies could no longer reap financial rewards or tax credits from the state for 20 years, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2001.
Major technology companies are currently generating thousands of jobs in the state. Facebook has a property in Altoona, Google in Council Bluffs, Microsoft in West Des Moines, Amazon in Bondurant and Apple has plans in Waukee for a data center.
Senate Republicans voted down Democratic Sen. Zach Wahls’ amendment to add promotion of insurrection, election interference or fraud and hate speech or harassment to the list of items social media can censor in the bill, which currently includes pornography, obscene material and excessively violent content, among others.
“Not a single person is being banned from any … platforms for advocating for [conservative] positions. Not one. What they’re being banned for is advocating for things like violent insurrection against the United States,” Wahls said.
“There is not a problem with conservative speech being censored. That is not a real problem. This bill is about making a political point.”
Under the legislation, tech companies also could not prevent the state’s residents from downloading their apps or purchasing merchandise on online marketplaces, among other measures.
Republican Sen. Jim Carlin, a U.S. Senate primary challenger to Chuck Grassley, expressed his support for the bill in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s removal from all mainline tech platforms following his incitement of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
“There’s a handful of people in this country that are more powerful than any leader of the free world. Two of them silenced the President of the United States,” Carlin said.
“If this past election proved anything, it proves something that should chill the spine of anybody who believes in the Bill of Rights. This handful of people had the wherewithal to silence whoever they pleased … they have dominion over what we are allowed to see, to hear, to read. The power to tell us what we’re allowed to think.”
The lawmaker said Iowa will become a surveillance state if the Senate didn’t pass the bill.
“In China, the government [censors speech]. Here we let private monopolies do it,” Carlin said, citing his concern for future generations of conservatives. “They silenced the President of the United States. What do you think they’re gonna do to children down the road in the future?”
by Isabella Murray
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