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Indiana AG Todd Rokita To Begin Big Tech Censorship Probe

Todd Rokita

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) was temporarily censored by Twitter earlier this year. (Alan Mbathi/IPB News)

Attorney General Todd Rokita (R-IN) is beginning an investigation into tech giants Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter.

The probe will explore whether company policies harmed Indiana consumers—specifically those policies that removed content or limited speech.

Rokita says the investigation stems from complaints and his own observations.

"These platforms censor information given to consumers," he said. "Now, is that censoring abusive, deceptive, unfair? That’s what this investigation is about."

Twitter temporarily censored Rokita after he made a post on Valentine’s Day claiming the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

Rokita later said the post was a parody.

The AG insists this probe has nothing to do with past election results, rather understanding how companies craft policies and whether they break any Indiana laws.

"This is not an election situation that I'm looking at this through," Rokita said in an interview. "I'm looking at this through consumerism and protecting consumers."

Legal experts agree private companies are not subject to the First Amendment, therefore can censor any voices they choose. Dr. Fred Cate is a Distinguished Professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law and cybersecurity expert.

"What public institutions cannot do, private institutions can do," he said. "That’s why for years, for generations we’ve had newspapers that we’ve thought of as liberal or conservative."

The office's probe will explore whether the companies violated Indiana’s consumer protection laws.

That's something Dr. Jeff McCall, a professor of communication at DePauw University, believes could be difficult.

"If there was any action by his office or lawsuits filed, the big tech firms and their large attorneys would immediately jump in to referee whether there is a state role in regulation or whether that all is entirely left up to the federal government," McCall said. "So, this is going to be a very complex and complicated path that AG Rokita is heading down, but I do think it’s worth discussing."

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.

Representatives from the other companies were not immediately available.

Proving harm to Hoosier consumers requires a high legal bar as well. 

Dr. Scott Shackelford, an associate professor at Indiana University says courts have generally adopted a three-part test to access whether a company can be held responsible for harm. That starts with injury, he said.

"So both the numbers and severity. Number two there would be looking more broadly at the consumer advantages of having access to this technology along with the expense and difficultly on the business of avoiding the injury or the harm. The third part there would be looking at how easy was it for consumers to avoid being hurt," Shackelford said.

Despite those challenges, each of the experts believed the investigation could yield important information, while informing future policy.

In addition to that, McCall believes Rokita’s probe could yield both practical and political benefits.

"The initiation of this study will resonate with many of his core supporters in Indiana," he said. "I think it’s worth noting that he’s announced this as an investigation, and its hard to know what all that might really entail. But, it does give Rokita a ramp, so to speak, to engage in the national discussion of what is a very important topic--particularly for right of center people."

For critics of the probe, Rokita had a clear message.

"Just like has happened in every society where censorship and socialism was practiced, people end up starving in the streets. So be careful what you wish for, because the minute we stop looking into these kinds of things, you're the next one to get censored." 

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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