Senate approves bill to crack down on social media ‘deplatforming’
Image via Bloomberg.

One Republican Senator says the measure is unconstitutional.

The Senate has approved a measure to crackdown on social media companies Republicans say indiscriminately block users and content from their platforms.

By a 22-17 vote, most Republicans approved the bill (SB 7072) despite opposition from Democrats and Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes.

Gov. Ron DeSantis named the proposal a priority ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session after Twitter and other prominent social media companies removed then-President Donald Trump and other conservatives from their platforms following the U.S. Capitol riot. Conservatives argue they have been disproportionately targeted with bans, censoring, shadow bans and other restrictions.

Miami-Dade Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo suggested the measure is merely to bolster a possible 2024 presidential bid from DeSantis.

“We’re at the point right now where I’m just writing notes down of a speech that’s going to be given in Iowa in a couple years, not in your district,” Pizzo said. “This is not for your constituents.”

Brandes, a Republican who described himself as a “big L” Libertarian, said he opposed the bill because it’s not the right direction for Florida.

“Our staff basically tries to tell us it’s unconstitutional,” Brandes said. “You read the last three pages of the staff analysis, which I’m sure you all have, then what you find is basically they’re sitting around trying to do yoga poses to not point out and say directly that this is unconstitutional.”

The bill, carried by Estero Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues, would require social media companies to post their terms of service and apply them equally. It would prohibit social media platforms from banning a qualified political candidate for more than 60 days and lay out consequences for companies who do not comply.

Under the proposal, violators could face fines of $100,000 a day for deplatforming statewide candidates and $10,000 a day for other candidates. The bill, which addresses antitrust laws, would also require tech companies to publish standards for handling issues like censoring, deplatforming and blocking users and apply the standards consistently. 

The bill would not protect content that violates federal law, such as sexually explicit content.

Social media platforms would, under the legislation, be authorized to provide free advertising for candidates, as long as they inform the candidate of such in-kind contribution. According to the bill, “posts, content, material and comments by candidates which are shown on the platform in the same or similar way as other users’ posts, content, material and comments are not considered free advertising.”

“They would be allowed to remove posts that violate the terms of service. Those would be censored. That is allowed,” Rodrigues said Thursday. “They would not be allowed to permanently remove the candidate until after the election occurred in November.”

Former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp has been removed from Facebook, Rodrigues noted. The majority of his posts were apolitical and he was never told why he was removed, the Senator relayed.

Reporters, such as one for WINK, a CBS-affiliated TV station in Naples, have also been removed. “Journalistic enterprises” would also receive protection that meets one of four requirements regarding viewership.

Individual users could be removed after they receive proper notice and a period allowing them to appeal.

Opponents contend the bill would put Florida on the wrong side of history.

“In 200 years of history in this country, when the battle has been between a monopoly on one side and hard-working Americans on the other, the right side of history has always been on the history of the people, and it has never been on the side of the monopolies — not in this country,” Rodrigues responded.

Democrats and some Republicans such as Brandes and Rep. Rene Plasencia have opposed the measure.

Internet company lobbyists at NetChoice similarly called it unconstitutional because it would compel private businesses to host speech.

“This bill abandons conservative values, violates the First Amendment, and would force websites to host antisemitic, racist, and hateful content,” said NetChoice’s vice president and general counsel, Carl Szabo. “Content moderation is crucial to an internet that is safe and valuable for families and Floridian small businesses, but this bill would undermine this important ecosystem.”

The House is prepared to take up the bill when the Senate passes it. Rep. Blaise Ingoglia‘s version (HB 7013) is ready for consideration.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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