The House has approved a bill to crack down on “censorship” by social media companies.
A related bill to implement it initially failed to muster adequate support,
By a 78-41 vote Wednesday, the House sent the main bill (SB 7072) back to the Senate. But a public records bill tied to it (SB 7074) initially didn’t garner the two-thirds support it needed to pass. After a motion to reconsider the 78-40 vote by which it failed, Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia swapped back to his side of the aisle to give it the 79-39 vote it needed.
The main bill, carried by Estero Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues in the Senate and Spring Hill Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia in the House, would require social media companies to post their terms of service and apply them equally.
The public records bill would exempt information from public records requirements when the Department of Legal Affairs obtains it. That includes people’s personal identifying information and information collected from investigations into social media companies.
Immediately after the vote, several top Republicans huddled, likely to convince Plasencia to change his vote. Public records exemptions require two-thirds support to pass the Legislature.
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.
“Big Tech is not a free market — not even close,” Ingoglia told members. “They have become so large and so powerful that just the mere fact that we are on the floor of the House of Representatives debating whether or not they are encroaching on our First Amendment rights tells you that something is wrong.”
Orlando Rep. Anna V. Eskamani and other Democrats contend the bill would continue Republicans’ “culture war” over social media.
“Data privacy, I was happy to get behind, I was proud to get behind, but this is a political agenda feeding into a political base to stretch out a controversy that ended with the last presidential administration,” Eskamani said. “It’s an empty, unconstitutional promise, members, and we should leave it in the past.”
People should be deplatformed for calling a fair election stolen, Coral Springs Democratic Rep. Dan Daley contended, also referring to the former President. But he didn’t stop there, referring also to a video featuring DeSantis and a panel of anti-lockdown doctors and scientists that YouTube pulled from its site.
“If you post and host a panel of experts who question the legitimacy and call into question COVID and the 500,000 people who have died as a result, in this very building, you should to be deplatformed,” Daley said.
However, Republicans, including Lecanto Rep. Ralph Massullo, said the bill doesn’t only apply to Trump. Massullo said he had been deplatformed from Facebook and he doesn’t know why. Similarly, Lauderdale Lakes Democratic Rep. Anika Omphroy, one of two Democrats to vote in favor of the measure, said she was deplatformed from Facebook and wasn’t able to get her account back until she made connections at Facebook.
Dr. Anthony Fauci should have been deplatformed from Twitter for initially telling Americans to not wear masks based on Democrats’ standards, Ingoglia argued.
Two other members initially crossed party lines on the vote. Miami Democratic Rep. James Bush voted yes and Plasencia, an Orlando Republican who denounced Trump after the Capitol riot, voted no.
Eskamani said she supported cracking down on Big Tech by making them pay their fair share of corporate taxes and joining anti-trust lawsuits to break up monopolies.
The Senate-passed version would prohibit social media platforms from banning a qualified political candidate for more than 60 days. The state could slap companies with a $100,000 fine for infractions against statewide candidates and $10,000 for local candidates.
As amended by the House on Tuesday, the candidates could only be banned for 14 days, and violations would draw $250,000 for statewide candidates or $25,000 for local candidates.
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.
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.
People have been removed from platforms without being told what community standards the company says they violated.
“Because they’re so amorphous and they’re not well defined, and they’re so long and verbose, that it would be much easier just for them to tell the user what they were deplatformed or censored for so then they can correct their behavior,” Ingoglia said.
By a 22-17 vote on Monday, most Republicans approved the bill despite opposition from Democrats and Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes.
Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act allows social media companies to restrict content that is “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.” Violent content is often clear cut, but “otherwise objectionable” is subjective and has given Big Tech significant power to moderate content, often unequally, conservatives say.
Republicans and Democrats alike expressed their desire for Washington to revisit Section 230, but change looks unlikely.
Brandes has called the measure unconstitutional. Similarly, West Palm Beach Democratic Rep. Omari Hardy called the bill “an unconstitutional mess” on Tuesday.
“The fact of the matter is we have no right to wade into these waters. These waters belong to the federal government,” Hardy said. “But if you’re going to wade into these waters, you certainly shouldn’t do it like this, you certainly shouldn’t apply a term like censor and censorship, which has typically always and only applied to governments.”
Ingoglia disagreed with Hardy’s characterization.
“It is clear in Section 230 that what is not governed in federal law that we can do it here in the state,” he said. “(What) we’re talking about is protecting Floridians against large Big Tech monopolies.”
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.”
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.
The bill would also let users opt out of platforms’ content-sorting algorithms, allowing users to more easily view all their content. Facebook recently announced that it would be adding that feature.