Florida on Monday became the first U.S. state to regulate how Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media companies moderate online speech, imposing fines on companies that permanently suspend political candidates for state office. .
The new law, signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, is a direct response to former President Donald Trump’s suspension on Facebook and Twitter in January. In addition to fines due to the suspension of candidates, the measure prohibits preventing news organizations from publishing on their platforms responses to the content of their reports.
The governor said his seal, which will likely be challenged on the basis of constitutional arguments, means the people of Florida “will have guaranteed protection against the elites of Silicon Valley.” “If the big tech censors apply the rules inconsistently, discriminating in favor of the dominant ideology in Silicon Valley, they will be held accountable,” DeSantis said.
The law is part of a larger effort by conservative state legislatures to tackle the ability of tech companies to manage the posts published on their platforms.
Political efforts in this direction began after the attack on Capitol Hill in January. Parliamentarians across the country have echoed Trump’s accusations that tech companies are biased against conservative figures and publications, despite the fact that these profiles have grown significantly.
More than a hundred bills have been introduced across the country this year to tackle business moderation practices, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many projects have not been launched, but one of them is still the subject of debate in Texas. Twitter declined to comment on the news. Google and Facebook did not immediately react to the signing of the law.
Under Florida law, it is illegal to suspend a candidate from state social media for more than 14 days. The move appears to rule out the type of permanent suspension that social media platforms have applied to Trump’s accounts. Companies that suspend a state candidate will be fined US $ 250,000 (R $ 1.3 million) per day. The fine is lower for applicants for other positions.
The law states that platforms cannot remove or prioritize content from a “journalistic enterprise” that has reached certain dimensions. Conservatives were furious last year when Facebook and Twitter restricted the dissemination of a New York Post article about the contents of a laptop computer believed to have belonged to Hunter Biden, son of current President Joe Biden.
Under the approved law, platforms must also make it clear on what basis they decide to broadcast or maintain content on the air. A user can sue the platform if they believe that these criteria have been applied inconsistently.
A late amendment to the law exempts businesses from its effects if they own a theme park or entertainment center that occupies an area of more than 25 acres (101,000 square meters). This means that the law is unlikely to apply to sites owned by Disney, which operates the Walt Disney World Resort, and Comcast, which owns Universal Studios Florida.
In Florida, as in dozens of other states, the effort by Republican lawmakers to punish social media companies accompanies other attempts by the party to respond to demands from a conservative base that remains loyal to Trump. In recent weeks, the Florida and Republican-dominated legislatures of the states of Iowa and Oklahoma have passed measures that limit the right to protest and offer immunity to drivers who strike protesters on public streets.
And the Republican campaign to obstruct the vote has continued since Trump’s relentless lies about the 2020 election results. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp passed legislation that imposes new voting restrictions, and DeSantis, Florida, has passed legislation. did the same. Meanwhile, Texas Republicans are set to approve the biggest reversal of voting rights in the country.
The Republican effort stems from repeated complaints from Trump. During the failed re-election campaign, Trump made several attempts to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which exempts some tech companies from legal liability for user-generated content.
At the same time, the ex-president used these companies to spread disinformation. Twitter and Facebook ended up suspending Trump after he, using the platforms of those companies, inspired his supporters to attack the Capitol on January 6. Florida Republican lawmakers echoed Trump’s speech. “Several voters came to me to tell me that they had been banned from social media sites,” Representative Blaise Ingoglia said during a debate on the bill.
But Democrats, libertarian groups and tech companies say the law violates their First Amendment right to decide how to control content on their own platforms. And the move could make it impossible to initiate legal proceedings due to Section 230, the legal protections of the web platforms that Trump has attacked.
“It’s the government that tells private entities how to speak,” said Carl Szabo, vice president of NetChoice, an association that includes Facebook, Google and Twitter among its members. “Generally speaking, this is a very misreading of the First Amendment.” He said the First Amendment was created to protect sites like Reddit from government interference, not to “protect Reddit politicians”.
The measure passed in Florida is likely to be challenged in court, said Jef Kosseff, professor of cybersecurity law at the United States Naval Academy. “I think this is the start of a process of testing the limits of judges’ action against these kinds of restrictions on social media.”