Last year, I tried to create a “test suite” of websites that any new internet regulation ought to be “tested” against. The idea was that regulators were so obsessively focused on the biggest of the big guys (i.e., Google, Meta) that they never bothered to realize how it might impact other decently large websites that involved totally different setups and processes. For example, it’s often quite impossible to figure out how a regulation about Google and Facebook content moderation would work on sites like Wikipedia, Github, Discord, or Reddit.
Last week, we called out that Texas’s HB 20 social media content moderation law almost certainly applies to sites like Wikipedia and Reddit, yet I couldn’t see any fathomable way in which those sites could comply, given that so much of the moderation on each is driven by users rather than the company. It’s been funny watching supporters of the law try to insist that this is somehow easy for Wikipedia (probably the most transparent larger site on the internet) to comply with by being “more transparent and open access.”
If you somehow can’t see that tweet or screenshot, it’s a Trumpist defender of the law responding to someone asking how Wikipedia can comply with the law, saying:
Wikipedia would have to offer more transparent and open access to their platform, which would allow truth to flourish over propaganda there? Is that what you’re worried about, or what is it?
To which a reasonably perplexed Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales rightly responds:
What on earth are you talking about? It’s like you are writing from a different dimension.
Anyway… it seems some folks on Reddit are realizing the absurdity of the law and trying to demonstrate it in the most internety way possible. Michael Vario alerts us that the r/PoliticalHumor subreddit is “messing with Texas” by requiring every comment to include the phrase “Greg Abbott is a little piss baby” or be deleted in a fit of content moderation discrimination in violation of the HB20 law against social media “censorship.”
Until further notice, all comments posted to this subreddit must contain the phrase “Greg Abbott is a little piss baby”
There is a reason we’re doing this, the state of Texas has passed H.B. 20, Full text here, which is a ridiculous attempt to control social media. Just this week, an appeals court reinstated the law after a different court had declared it unconstitutional. Vox has a pretty easy to understand writeup, but the crux of the matter is, the law attempts to force social media companies to host content they do not want to host. The law also requires moderators to not censor any specific point of view, and the language is so vague that you must allow discussion about human cannibalization if you have users saying cannibalization is wrong. Obviously, there are all sorts of real world problems with it, the obvious ones being forced to host white nationalist ideology or insurrectionist ideation. At the risk of editorializing, that might be a feature, not a bug for them.
Anyway, Reddit falls into a weird category with this law. The actual employees of the company Reddit do, maybe, one percent of the moderation on the site. The rest is handled by
disgusting janniesvolunteer moderators, who Reddit has made quite clear over the years, aren’t agents of Reddit (mainly so they don’t lose millions of dollars every time a mod approves something vaguely related to Disney and violates their copyright). It’s unclear whether we count as users or moderators in relation to this law, and none of us live in Texas anyway. They can come after all 43 dollars in my bank account if they really want to, but Virginia has no obligation to extradite or anything.
We realized what a ripe situation this is, so we’re going to flagrantly break this law. Partially to raise awareness of the bullshit of it all, but mainly because we find it funny. Also, we like this Constitution thing. Seems like it has some good ideas.
They also include a link to the page where people can file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, asking him to investigate whether the deletion of any comments that don’t claim that his boss, Governor Greg Abbott, is “a little piss baby” is viewpoint discrimination in violation of the law.
Source: Subreddit Discriminates Against Anyone Who Doesn’t Call Texas Governor Greg Abbott ‘A Little Piss Baby’ To Highlight Absurdity Of Content Moderation Law | Techdirt