Judge blocks Florida law aimed at punishing social media
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The law was set to go into effect July 1.

A federal judge issued an order pumping the brakes on a Florida law cracking down on Big Tech that was slated to kick in Thursday.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle granted a temporary injunction late Wednesday, siding with Silicon Valley interests over the law (SB 7072), promoted by legislative Republicans and Gov. Ron DeSantis. The injunction comes following a hearing Monday, one of the first battles in a lawsuit filed by the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice.

The law, which would have kicked in at midnight, 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.

DeSantis signed and promoted the measure as protections for users’ speech, arguing social media disproportionately punishes conservatives. CCIA and NetChoice, represented by DLA Piper and others, filed a lawsuit last month arguing the law instead violates the tech corporations’ rights to free speech.

The preliminary injunction stops the law from taking effect while the state and tech groups litigate the bill.

NetChoice Vice President and General Counsel Carl Szabo celebrated the injunction in a statement. NetChoice and CCIA are two Washington-based internet interest lobbying associations that partner with Twitter, Google and others.

“When the State’s own lawyers can’t explain how the law works or even identify to whom it applies, there’s just no way that Florida’s enforcement of that law would keep users, creators, and advertisers safe from the tidal wave of offensive content and hate speech that would surely ensue,” Szabo said.

CCIA President Matt Schruers called the order a win for internet users and the First Amendment.

“This decision upholding the Constitution and federal law is encouraging, and reaffirms what we have been saying: Florida’s statute is an extraordinary overreach, designed to penalize private businesses for their perceived lack of deference to the Government’s political ideology,” Schruers said.

Julio Fuentes, President of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, also came out in support of the order.

“The first amendment was written to protect private citizens and companies from government controlled and compelled speech,” Fuentes said. “It’s a beacon of our democracy and should never be weaponized in the name of politicking. Florida’s small businesses do not need our leaders to over-regulate them and instead, need their support as they try to recover from a global pandemic.”

Hinkle, a senior judge in the Northern District of Florida, peppered lawyers with questions and swiped at the law during Monday’s two and a half-hour hearing.

“I won’t put you on the spot and ask you if you’ve ever dealt with a statute that was more poorly drafted,” the judge asked lawyers representing DeSantis’ administration.

During the hearing, Brian Barnes, an attorney with the Cooper & Kirk PLLC firm who represents the state, said First Amendment speech protections don’t apply to the social-media behemoths.

He pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case known as Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights that Barnes said “definitely disproves this categorical First Amendment right to engage in — they call it editorial judgment, but I guess I would characterize it as silencing particular voices that the First Amendment always protects.”

Meanwhile, the Internet Association’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel Jon Berroya cautioned that the state could still appeal the injunciton.

“We are confident that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals will recognize that IA members’ ability to freely engage in First Amendment-protected content moderation activities is essential to protect consumers from a wide range of harmful activity, including foreign disinformation campaigns and spam,” he said in a statement.

DeSantis named the 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.

DeSantis unveiled the proposal days after Trump left office and moved to Florida full-time. While the connection to the former President is clear, the Governor called it a bill for everyday Floridians.

That didn’t stop him from elaborating on the Trump connection when pressed by a reporter after signing the bill at Florida International University.

“When you deplatform the President of the United States, but you let Ayatollah (AliKhamenei talk about killing Jews, that is wrong,” DeSantis said.

Here is the ruling:

____

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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.


11 comments

  • Tom Palmer

    June 30, 2021 at 9:24 pm

    This really sheds light on the brilliance–or lake thereof–of our leaders in Tallahassee and their petty political agendas.

  • andrew babec

    June 30, 2021 at 10:08 pm

    It truly sickens me that liberals and democrats think they have a right to silence and ban conservatives just because they disagree with them. Its also disgusting they believe hampering Big Tech’s abilities to silence and deplatform Americans somehow interferes with their first amendment rights.

    What about every day Americans? do we get free speech rights? or do Big Tech corporations only get free speech rights?

    • Robin Smith

      July 1, 2021 at 7:19 am

      Well, Big Tech does contribute billions to the economy, unlike your unemployment checks.

      • Whatajoke

        July 1, 2021 at 11:36 am

        So you favor an oligarchy? Wow. How much longer can liberals pretend to be working class champions?

  • Margaret Chrisawn

    June 30, 2021 at 10:25 pm

    First, Rober Hinkle is a senior judge in the Northern District, Tallahassee Division, and not the Middle District.
    Second, the Court’s reasoning here far outweighs the disorganized, mostly incoherent, and legally unsound blathering of DuhSamtis’s lawyers, who wouldn’t recognize proper arguments regarding First Amendment rights in any context, much less than here, involving private companies.
    Third, a simple survey over the past interminably long six years would reveal to even the densest citizen of Floriduh that conservatives–and rightwing crazies–have been very much an unfettered presence on social media.
    Fourth, and last, conservatives–and MoRon the Baby Trumper–are clearly outraged only because social media had the wisdom to ban a dangerous, demented, and evil traitor who used people to stage an insurrection to keep his obese, incontinent posterior in power. Such outrage and the resulting inane “laws” have failed, publicly and I suspect, permanently.

    • Gregg

      July 1, 2021 at 12:51 am

      Margaret baby, I’m a black guy who believes in 1A. Therefore you must be a racist. Also an idiot for believing the BS that the left is spewing.
      Wake up woman.

  • joey

    June 30, 2021 at 10:35 pm

    You have free speech in your own platform. If you want to use other company platform you have to follow their rules.

  • Franky Brown

    June 30, 2021 at 11:03 pm

    Unbelievable, they claim they have a right to free speech while canceling others rights! Especially, the President of the United States!

  • Pam

    July 1, 2021 at 12:19 am

    It is a shame that free speech has been taken away from certain ones and left with others to speech as they wiah. Free speech is something everyone deserves and is given a right through our Constitution. Taking that away is a form of resolving the rights of the people. Shame on you for taking our given rights away.

  • JoAnne

    July 8, 2021 at 3:45 pm

    Here’s the problem with Facebook, two strangers disagreed on the Governors page. The male poster told the female poster that he had just looked up her address and was going to send someone to her home to sexually assault her. Reported it to FB who responded that it did not violate their terms of service. OK, then what does? I guess political disagreement is more of a violation to them.

Comments are closed.


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