Florida, in first, to fine social media companies that ban candidates


WASHINGTON – Florida on Monday became the first state to regulate how companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter moderate online speech, imposing fines on social media companies that permanently ban political candidates in the state .

The law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is a direct response to former President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Twitter bans in January. In addition to the entry ban fines, it is illegal to prevent certain news outlets from posting on their platforms in response to the content of their articles.

DeSantis said signing the bill, which is set to face a constitutional challenge, meant Floridians would be “protected from the elites of Silicon Valley.”

“If Big Tech censors apply the rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable,” he said in a statement.

The bill is part of a larger push among conservative state legislatures to crack down on the ability of tech companies to manage posts on their platforms. Political efforts took off after Trump’s ban following the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers across the country have echoed Trump’s accusations that companies are biased against conservative figures and publications, even though these accounts often thrive online.

More than 100 bills targeting business restraint practices were introduced across the country this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many bills have died, but a proposal is still being debated in Texas.

Twitter declined to comment. Google and Facebook did not immediately comment on the signing of the bill.

Florida law makes it illegal to ban a candidate for public office for more than 14 days, which appears to prohibit the type of permanent ban on social media platforms applied to Trump’s accounts. Businesses would be fined $ 250,000 a day for banning a candidate for a job statewide. The fine is lower for applicants seeking other positions.

The law states that platforms cannot remove or prioritize content from a “journalistic business” that reaches a certain size. Conservatives were outraged last year when Facebook and Twitter limited the scope of a New York Post article on the contents of a laptop it said belonged to Hunter Biden, President Joe’s youngest son. Biden.

By law, platforms must also be clear on how they decide to remove content or leave it there. Users could sue the platform if they felt that these terms were applied inconsistently.

A late amendment to the bill exempts businesses from the law if they own a theme park or entertainment venue larger than 25 acres. This means that the law is unlikely to apply to websites owned by Disney, which operates the Walt Disney World Resort, and Comcast, which owns Universal Studios Florida.

In Florida, as in dozens of other states, the push by Republican lawmakers to punish social media companies follows the party’s other efforts to fuel the claims of a conservative base that remains loyal to Trump.

Florida, along with the Republican legislatures of Oklahoma and Iowa, have passed legislation in recent weeks limiting the right to protest and granting immunity to drivers who strike protesters on public streets.

And Republican pressure to make it harder to vote continues unabated after Trump’s relentless lie about the 2020 election results. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has enacted new voting restrictions, as has DeSantis in Florida. , and Texas Republicans are set to pass the nation’s biggest voting rights cut soon.

The party-wide and nation-wide push stems from Trump’s repeated grievances. During his failed re-election campaign, Trump repeatedly pushed to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants some tech companies immunity from liability for user-generated content, even as he used their platforms to spread disinformation. Twitter and Facebook ultimately banned Trump after inspiring his supporters, using their platforms, to attack the Capitol on Jan.6.

Florida Republican lawmakers echoed Trump’s statements. “Many voters came to me to tell me that they had been banned or dismantled on social media sites,” Representative Blaise Ingoglia said during debate on the bill.

But Democrats, libertarian groups, and tech companies all say the law violates the First Amendment rights of tech companies to decide how to handle content on their own platforms. It may also prove impossible to file a complaint under the law due to Section 230, the legal protections of the web platforms that Trump has attacked.

“It’s the government that tells private entities how to speak,” said Carl Szabo, vice president of NetChoice, a trade association that includes Facebook, Google and Twitter as members. “In general, this is a misreading of the First Amendment.” He said the First Amendment was designed to protect sites like Reddit from government interference, not to protect “Reddit politicians”.

Florida’s measure will likely be challenged in court, said Jeff Kosseff, professor of cybersecurity law at the US Naval Academy.

“I think this is the start of testing the limits of judges on these kind of restrictions for social media,” he said.

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