Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis put his money where his mouth is on May 25, cracking down on Big Tech and protecting his constituents. A constant critic of online censorship by social media giants, DeSantis wants to punish them for suspending or banning political candidates in his state. Starting July 1, companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can face fines up to $250,000 per day for de-platforming a candidate running for a statewide office and $25,000 per day for a candidate seeking a non-statewide position. The Big Tech bill also grants Florida residents the authority to sue tech companies for up to $100,000 for de-platforming them. Although this bill does not guarantee a win and payout, it combats a federal law that denies American consumers that right.
A court battle is likely as some targets of the law claim it is unconstitutional. Lawsuits are expected, and whether Florida’s new bill will be upheld is in question. The bill came as federal and state lawmakers argue over Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934. Democrats, on one hand, believe the platforms are not doing enough to censor and minimize offensive content from third-party users such as former President Trump. On the other, Republicans argue the platforms censor too much and target members of the GOP. Company leaders such as Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg are adamant that they do not block or remove users or content based on political ideology. This bill will make them prove it, requiring them to publish their censorship and suspension standards.
DeSantis has described social media platforms as “Orwellian,” arguing they push preferred political narratives and censor those who question them. The governor made this statement after a roundtable that discussed children wearing masks in schools. YouTube took down the video because it said comments made at the meeting did not align with the guidelines and recommendations from local and global health officials.
Unsurprisingly, the bill has received heat from Democrats. Florida State House Representative Joe Geller called it a “publicity stunt” that will die in the courts. State Senator Audrey Gibson said, “The Republican less-government crew is at it again inserting government into privately-owned social media companies to placate on an individual. These enterprises take responsibility for what appears on their platforms and have the right to do so.”
TechFreedom, a Washington, D.C., think tank, sides with the Democrats, saying the bill is unconstitutional and an “assault on the First Amendment”; ironically, the goal of the bill is to protect First Amendment rights. Corbin Barthold, internet policy counsel at TechFreedom, argues the bill attempts to “compel websites to speak” and charges that DeSantis wants to erase free-speech rights with consumer protection.
With Section 230 in place, states are limited in their power to demand social media companies permit speech on their platforms. If the regulation is removed or reformed, space for states to take stances against the tech industry will open. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced a bill that would remove 230 and require social media platforms to prove that their algorithms and censorship practices are not politically biased, similar to a section of DeSantis’ bill. However, with Democrats in control of the House and Senate, the odds of a Republican-backed bill regarding social media passing are slim to none. The internet looks drastically different today than when Section 230 was enacted in 1996, both Democrats and Republicans agree on that. They disagree on the power balance among consumers, tech companies, and federal and state governments. Legal action against the Big Tech bill is expected in the coming weeks as the battle over censorship continues.
Read more from Keelin Ferris.