The House and Senate have reached an agreement on Republicans’ bill to crack down on “censorship” by social media companies.
By a 77-38 the House passed the proposal (SB 7072) hours after the Senate passed it 23-17. The new version includes clarifying language regarding the definition of a social media company.
The 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.
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.
The majority of senators agreed to the House version and added a clarification that “social media platforms” don’t include any information service, system, internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex.
The theme park language targets Disney’s “Disney Plus,” which inadvertently got tied up in language saying the bill applied to platforms with 100 million users. Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, contended that was a carveout for Disney, but Ingoglia argued it would only allow Disney to moderate its review section.
The House voted 78-41 on Wednesday, which included cross-party votes from two Democrats and one Republican, to pass their version. With the Senate language, the majority picked up the support of Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned, but Democratic Rep. Anika Omphroy was not in the room to vote yes again.
The Senate had initially passed it along the same 23-17 vote, which saw Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes join Democrats in the minority.
As amended by the House on Tuesday, the bill would limit social media companies to banning candidates for no more than 14 days, and violations would draw $250,000 fines for statewide candidates or $25,000 for local candidates. That’s more strict than the Senate’s initial position of 60-day bans and $100,000 and $10,000 fines.
The proposals, which address 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 companies say 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.
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 Florida Republicans’ measure unconstitutional.
Last year, then-Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels was arrested on charges relating to a sex scandal but continued his reelection bid. Maintaining a candidate’s social media account helps keep voters informed, Rodrigues argued.
“If they’re engaging in that behavior, we want the public to know about the bad behavior,” he said. “If their social media account is active and people are commenting on that, then that makes it available for all the voting public to be aware of that.”
Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Tina Polksy argued the state would be involving itself in the marketplace of a private company.
Like candidates, 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.