This week, a Clinton-appointed federal judge blocked a Florida law which aimed to both protect free speech online and prevent “a social media platform from willfully deplatforming a candidate.”
GOP Superstar Governor Ron DeSantis has reportedly vowed to appeal the ruling – making it clear that this battle in the broader war over the intersection of legislation and technology is far from over.
DeSantis signed the legislation opposed by the Clinton judge back in late May. It was signed with the intention of reining in Big Tech companies and empowering users who believed they had been discriminated against unfairly.
According to DeSantis, under SB 7072:
“All Floridians treated unfairly by Big Tech platforms will have the right to sue companies that violate this law — and win monetary damages. This reform safeguards the rights of every Floridian by requiring social media companies to be transparent about their content moderation practices and give users proper notice of changes to those policies, which prevents Big Tech bureaucrats from “moving the goalposts” to silence viewpoints they don’t like.
The Attorney General of Florida can bring action against technology companies that violate this law, under Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If social media platforms are found to have violated antitrust law, they will be restricted from contracting with any public entity. That “antitrust violator” blacklist imposes real consequences for Big Tech oligopolies’ bottom line.
Big Tech is prohibited from de-platforming Floridian political candidates. The Florida Election Commission will impose fines of $250,000 per day on any social media company that de-platforms any candidate for statewide office, and $25,000 per day for de-platforming candidates for non-statewide offices. Any Floridian can block any candidate they don’t want to hear from, and that is a right that belongs to each citizen — it’s not for Big Tech companies to decide.”
“This session, we took action to ensure that ‘We the People’ — real Floridians across the Sunshine State — are guaranteed protection against the Silicon Valley elites,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.
“Many in our state have experienced censorship and other tyrannical behavior firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela. If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable.”
The judge – U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle – blocked the law, arguing that it was a violation of the First Amendment rights of these platforms. “The legislation compels providers to host speech that violates their standards — speech they otherwise would not host — and forbids providers from speaking as they otherwise would,” he wrote.
“Like prior First Amendment restrictions, this is an instance of burning the house to roast a pig. … Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest. And even aside from the actual motivation for this legislation, it is plainly content-based and subject to strict scrutiny,” Hinkle added sarcastically, according to NBC News.
DeSantis’ strategy in the war against Big Tech censorship is to focus on the companies’ impact on freedom of speech — an issue of massive importance for many conservatives — with state-level direction action that both takes national policy efforts into account and amplifies them, using the specific tools he has as a state governor.
Given that DeSantis plans to challenge the injunction, it then becomes important to understand that other legal minds have spoken out on this strategy.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, “appeared to argue that social media companies like Facebook and Twitter should no longer be able to hide behind protections like the First Amendment and Section 230 in their bid to regulate certain forms of speech on their platforms” in April.
Thomas hinted at two fundamental arguments that could be crucial elements of the legislative strategy for hindering Big Tech’s efforts to suppress conservative speech online.
Firstly, the argument that companies like Twitter are “public accommodations” would provide legislators with effective tools to regulate their control of content — for better or for worse.
Secondly, the explicit judicial acknowledgement that Section 230 is being leveraged by social media companies to provide “immunity” for their “bad-faith” removal of third-party content provides a further indication that the alteration of Section 230 is a possibility in the near future.
Author: Wilson Lowry