Bill on abusive, offensive language on social media passes committee

OKLAHOMA CITY - A bill targeting abusive or offensive language on social media accounts by people paid with taxpayer dollars has advanced in a Senate committee.

Senate Bill 198 authored by Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman passed the Senate's General Government committee this week by a vote of 8 to 4.

As written, the bill directs all state agencies and political subdivisions to adopt a social networking and social media policy that would apply to the "personal use of social media by state employees and employees of any political subdivision of this state to discourage abusive or offensive online behavior."

More specifically, the bill states policies developed by each agency should discourage the sharing of content or comments by state employees and employees of any political subdivision containing the following, when directed at a citizen of the state of Oklahoma:

  • Obscene sexual content or links to obscene sexual content
  • Abusive behavior and bullying language or tone
  • Conduct or encouragement of illegal activity
  • Intentionally dishonest conduct that could potentially result in harm to a citizen
  • Disclosure of information which an agency and its employees are required to keep confidential by law, regulation or internal policy

"Anybody that your tax dollars is going to pay ought to have a reasonable bar of conduct that you might appreciate and expect," Standridge told News 4. "I would encourage citizens to understand that the intent is about the fact that what I see in bullying amongst children is happening a lot online and they’re learning that from adults so, if the state can set a good example, then I think hopefully children will follow because that’s actually our job."

The bill, however, was questioned by committee members including Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee. He told News 4 that he felt the intention of the bill was commendable but did not believe it could be enforced.

"The problem is how do you define appropriate and inappropriate in a world that it’s very difficult. Social standards have changed over the years," Sharp said. "As Abraham Lincoln said, you cannot legislate morality. We wish we could. We do want a better Oklahoma. I applaud him for his effort, but there are certain constitutional freedoms that would be at risk by doing that."

Standridge said he was willing to work with critics on the bill and plans to amend the language.

"I will be taking out all of the information about ‘private and personal.’ I’ll probably even be putting a liability protection, but what I want to do is set in statute some minimal code of conduct that the people are paying me to work for them might expect of me or any employee of the state," he said.

The bill heads to the Senate for consideration. If passed and signed into law, it would go effect on November 1.

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