Silicon Valley is challenging Florida’s social media deplatforming bill, and Gov. Ron DeSantis is looking forward to the legal battle.
Florida is facing a series of lawsuits over recent policies, including an anti-rioting bill and reopening cruise ships. But the “most interesting,” the Republican Governor said Tuesday, is the lawsuit to torpedo one of his priorities, a law (SB 7072) limiting social media’s control over what appears on their platforms.
“This is really new ground that we’re trotting,” DeSantis said after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. “The framework was based off Justice Clarence Thomas‘ concurrence that he wrote many months ago about how would you handle something like Big Tech.”
The lawsuit, which contests the state’s view that social media platforms should be treated like common carriers and not private companies, could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lawyers representing the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice, two internet interest lobbying associations that partner with Twitter and Google and others, have filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing the law is a violation of their clients’ First Amendment right to control what appears on their sites. The act violates the First Amendment by compelling social media companies to host “highly objectionable or illegal content” and punishing them for taking action to block or hide content, the groups argue.
Lawmakers in other states have tried to pass similar bills, but DeSantis is the first Governor to sign such a law. The act will take effect on July 1, but a hearing is slated for June 28 to determine whether to halt the bill from kicking in.
Conservatives have frequently complained that they are disproportionately disciplined online. DeSantis named the Big Tech bill a priority ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session after Twitter and other prominent social media companies banished then-President Donald Trump and other conservatives from their platforms following the U.S. Capitol riot.
“At the end of the day, I think most people in our state — and I think probably throughout the country for that matter — are uncomfortable with having a handful of massive companies basically being in charge of regulating the political speech in this country and being able to choose what people can say, what orthodoxies are OK, what aren’t,” DeSantis said.
The series of bans in January centered around election disinformation, but social media companies have also attempted to police comments about the pandemic. That issue resurfaced in the national media recently, when Facebook last month ended its fact-checking policy of taking down posts claiming COVID-19 was human-made after Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged the theory should be investigated.
“Just think about how Facebook was interacting with Fauci, about some of the information that they’ve then eventually suppressed,” he added. “You can argue that in some ways they’re even acting as an arm of the government, at least when it came to the the the coronavirus information.”
The law would require social media companies to post their terms of service with standards for handling issues like censoring, deplatforming and blocking users, and apply the standards consistently. Further, the act 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.
Central to the state’s legal defense is that social media companies are common carriers, grouping them with services like railroads, telecommunications and airlines. Social media companies get “massive benefits” from the federal government, DeSantis argued.
“They get immunity because they say they’re an open forum, and so if somebody says something about you that libels you, you can’t sue Facebook, you can’t sue Twitter, you can’t sue these companies because they’re just forums,” he said. “Yet, they’ll take that immunity and then on the back end, they’ll go ahead and they’ll take people off that they disagree with, or they’ll censor people that are ideas that they don’t like.”