Florida Governor Signs Bill Targeting Social Media Companies
By Brian Fung | CNN
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took a look at Big Tech on Monday as he signed a state bill targeting how digital platforms moderate online content.
The legislation marks one of the biggest steps yet by a Republican governor to act on allegations of online censorship by companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter.
But critics in the tech industry say the legislation is unconstitutional, paving the way for a court battle over the law.
In public remarks on Monday, DeSantis accused a Silicon Valley “council of censors” of ending the debate over Covid-19 lockdowns and the origins of the coronavirus.
âI would say these lockdowns have ruined the lives of millions of people across the country,â DeSantis said. âWouldn’t it have been good to have a full debate on this subject in our public square? But that was not what Silicon Valley wanted to do. “
Bill signed by DeSantis prohibits tech platforms from suspending or banning political candidates in the state, with possible fines of $ 250,000 per day if the dismantled candidate seeks a statewide job and $ 25,000 per day if the candidate reports to a non-national office.
The legislation also gives Florida residents the ability to sue tech companies for dismantling. Similar bills have also been considered in states such as Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Utah.
The Florida bill comes as U.S. lawmakers have proposed significant changes to federal law that gives tech platforms the legal wiggle room to run their platforms without being sued. The federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, has come under attack by Democrats who argue that the platforms enjoy the immunity protections of the law without doing enough to contain the offensive content, while that Republicans say platforms restrict too much content.
Tech industry officials have repeatedly denied blocking or removing content through political ideology. Many tech platforms have policies that ban the spread of coronavirus misinformation or lies about the 2020 election, and some high-profile Republicans, such as former President Donald Trump, have violated these policies, resulting in their suspension from major online platforms.
Florida law will require technology platforms not to moderate their sites because of the threat of legal action by “anyone on the Internet, from foreign extremists to disgruntled Internet trolls,” said the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a group of technological commerce.
In an editorial for the Orlando Sentinel, CCIA President Matt Schruers wrote that the lawsuits would surely be followed: âFlorida taxpayers will also end up paying their share of the cost of enforcing the new regulations, and inevitable legal challenges that will come as well as the efforts of the legislature to pass a law with glaring constitutional challenges. “
The CCIA has also raised eyebrows over a highly controversial provision in the bill that exempts the websites of theme park operators, which some critics have interpreted as a special exception for Disney. (Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal and operates the Universal Orlando theme park, may also appear to be covered by the exemption.)
Questions about the constitutionality of the bill are rooted in the cases of the First Amendment prohibiting the government from convincing speeches by private entities.
âThe First Amendment to the United States Constitution – supported by Section 230 – makes it clear that states do not have the power to compel private companies to host speeches, especially politicians,â the President said. Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, co-author of Section 230, in a statement regarding the signing of the Florida bill.