Florida’s social media freedom of speech laws may have violated freedom of the press.


A federal appeals court upheld a ruling that blocked a controversial Florida law that forbids certain social media platforms to ban political candidates or “journalism companies” from their services. It was the first bill signed, passed by the state legislature last year and viewed largely as a response to censorship by conservative politicians and the media.

Steve DelBianco, president of industry group NetChoice, one of the plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit to overturn the law, said: “By delaying the enforcement of Florida law, the courts are helping to keep social media family-friendly. I am happy,” he said. said in a statement After the Supreme Court ruling last year. “This order protects private businesses from state demands to have social media post user posts that violate community standards.”

that much lawThis bill, called the Stop Social Media Censorship Act, was proposed by Governor Ron DeSantis. January 2021, shortly after then-President Trump was banned or suspended from several social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, for inciting riots in the Capitol Building on January 6. The law also calls for a multifaceted attack on Trump’s own section of the federal law, which allows online platforms to tailor user content in any way they see appropriate, as well as the unfounded complaints of conservatives that big tech companies improperly moderate their speeches. It came out even after this failed. . However, research shows that platforms do not discriminate against conservative content. If so, they do the opposite.

11th Circuit Court of Appeals kept the judgment As of May 2022, most of Florida’s laws said it was “significantly” likely to infringe First Amendment rights on social media platforms. Allowing banned users to access their data for at least 60 days, including requiring platforms to publish “detailed definitions” of standards used to censor or ban users, and requiring platforms to notify users allowing some parts of the law to remain. Rules of change.

The Social Media Censorship Stop Act easily passed the Republican-majority House and Senate in Florida. DeSantis signed the bill in May 2021, and it was celebrated the same day. social media platform He claims he unreasonably censored conservative politicians and needed such laws.

Among other things, the law imposes fines of $250,000 per day for candidates for statewide office on social media platforms and $25,000 per day for candidates for low-level office, and allows states and individuals to sue the platform if they feel they have violated the law. . In addition, any content by or about a candidate may not be “shadow-banned” or hidden or suppressed from the view of other users. The law only applied to social media platforms that do business in the state (basically have users in Florida) and have an annual revenue of $100 million or at least 100 million monthly active users worldwide. Platforms owned by companies that own theme parks in the state were exempt.

Many experts said from the outset that the law was on a shaky legal basis. Industry groups representing affected big tech companies – NetChoice and Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) – sued the state Within days of signing the law, DeSantis overturned the law, claiming that it infringed the company’s 1st and 14th Amendment rights and allowed content moderation under Section 230.

Plaintiffs requested a preliminary injunction that would prevent the court from taking effect before determining constitutionality. Both sides presented their arguments before Federal Judge Robert Hinkle on June 28, 2021. Hinkle put some effort At the hearing, he said the law was “wrongly enacted” to hide his contempt for the law and asked why it was proposed. exemption For companies running theme parks in Florida — a seemingly blatant attempt to give special treatment to the state’s biggest tourist attraction, despite no company owning a social media platform to which the law applies.

So Hinkle accepted the plaintiff’s request The law issued a preliminary injunction, saying it was “an effort to curb social media providers considered too large and liberal” and “not in the legitimate government interest.” It was also discriminatory because it did not apply to platforms or smaller platforms owned by companies with theme parks in Florida, and had the potential to violate First Amendment freedom of expression on Big Tech platforms.

“Discrimination between speakers is often the cause of content discrimination,” wrote Hinkle. In other words, it can be seen that the law to prevent content discrimination is itself implementing content discrimination.

Finally, the judge said the law “explicitly” violated section 230. The provision allows the platform to moderate content and no state can make laws inconsistent with Section 230, he said.

Plaintiff was satisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal.

“This ruling means that the government cannot force a platform to distribute vicious, abusive and extremist content under the penalty of law. This is good news for Internet users, First Amendment and freedom of speech in democracy,” said CCIA President Matt Schruers. said in a statement.

Florida can now ask a full panel of 11th circuit judges to review the decision, appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, or drop the matter.

“The core court ruling that a social media platform is more like newspapers and parades rather than a regular mobile operator sending other people’s messages is absurd,” Governor DeSantis said in a statement. “We will continue to fight massive tech censorship and protect Florida’s First Amendment rights.”

The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to block similar state laws in Texas.

Regardless of what DeSantis’ laws ultimately end up with, he has had to point his gun at Big Tech and repeat the unfounded claims popular with many Republicans, in the process gaining the political capital for the anticipated 2024 presidential run.

May 24, 2022 update: Updated to include the Court of Appeal decision in the social media case.

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