Twitter and other social media platforms that allow their sites to be used to promote sexual exploitation of children would become liable in Florida to civil lawsuits and administrative fines, in new bills from Sen. Jennifer Bradley and Rep. Scott Plakon.
Bradley’s Senate Bill 1308 and Plakon’s House Bill 995, both filed Monday, respond to cases in which sexually explicit pictures and videos of children have appeared on the sites and remained even after individuals and families had complained.
From one perspective, the bills represent yet another legislative effort to regulate accountability of social media platforms. In many cases those efforts have been led by angry conservative Republicans frustrated by Twitter’s and other platforms’ decisions to ban various conservatives, such as former President Donald Trump, for content the platforms concluded was false or ran afoul of its standards.
In this case, however, the same accountability arguments are being made to make the platforms more careful in what they allow, and accuses them of disregarding decency. The effort also targets the dark activities of human trafficking and child sexploitation.
In particular, Plakon, a Longwood Republican, pointed to the case of one of his constituents, a Lake Mary teenage boy who had been drawn partly into a child trafficking scheme as a 13-year-old. When he was 17 a video from that horrific experience emerged on Twitter. The boy and his parents objected to Twitter, but it took the company nine days to remove the images. By that time the video had accrued more than 167,000 views and 2,223 retweets.
That incident is subject to a federal lawsuit filed last month in U.S. District Court in California by the the Haba Law Firm of Longwood.
“As adults and leaders, it’s our responsibility to make sure that children are protected from cybercrime, public humiliation, and online harassment,” Bradley stated in a news release. “If social media companies will not do their part to protect them, then we will.”
She is a Republican from Fleming Island.
“As we see in this case and in other instances, for far too long social media has been used by predators to harm children,” Plakon said. “If online platforms like Twitter refuse to stop these crimes on their own, we will empower parents to hold them accountable”
HB 995 and SB 1308 would allow parents or guardians to sue the companies if they don’t take down the materials within 24 hours of a written complaint. The bills also would allow the Florida Attorney General to pursue the companies, an to impose administrative fines against platforms that refuse to remove sexually explicit images and videos of children after the companies have been notified by a parent or a guardian of the minor child.
The company could face fines of up to $100,000 a day in Florida, and the money would go into the state’s Crimes Compensation Trust Fund. The legislation also would give courts the power to order compensatory damages and to grant equitable relief, including injunctive relief, to a prevailing plaintiff. The legislation also would allow the court to award punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was willful.
The lawyer representing the 17-year-old Lake Mary boy in the federal lawsuit, Lisa Haba, is a former prosecutor in Florida’s 18th Judicial Circuit who specialized in prosecuting human trafficking cases and now represents human trafficking and sexual abuse clients in civil cases. In the news release, she praised Bradley’s and Plakon’s legislation.
“Our lawsuit seeks to shine a light on how Twitter has enabled and profited from child sexual abuse material on its platform, choosing profits over people, money over the safety of children, and wealth at the expense of human freedom and dignity.”