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Florida Governor, Nation States, Take On Big Tech

Rattled by censorship and deplatforming, many jurisdictions are looking at ways to make Silicon Valley respect citizens’ rights. Florida’s Governor DeSantis may be the most colorful

At a press conference on Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis offered a look at new legislation that forms part of his initiative to reduce the power of Big Social Media to harvest and sell data on users:

The act, should it pass muster in the state House and Senate, would force tech platforms to disclose what data they have on Floridians to those users and delete that information if requested.

The law would also ask companies not to sell the data and would create legal avenues to sue for noncompliance.

Whether one state will be able to regulate such massive companies that operate on a global scale remains to be seen — likely in a court of law.

Emily Jacobs, “Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis unveils new legislation to combat Big Tech” at New York Post (February 16, 2021)

This proposed law follows another one unveiled February 2 that would fine Big Social Media $100,000 per day if they “deplatform” public figures like former President Donald Trump:

“Today they may come after someone who looks like me. Tomorrow they may come after someone who looks like you,” DeSantis, a Republican, said during a news conference outside the state Capitol as he announced the Transparency in Technology Act.

The governor said he intends to “protect privacy” from the “oligarchs in Silicon Valley” – Google, Facebook and Twitter – because the platforms have “changed from neutral platforms to enforcers of preferred narratives.”

Mark Moore, “Florida Gov. DeSantis goes to war against ‘Big Tech,’ citing censorship of Trump” at New York Post

One source of concern, of course, is that, when followers of deplatformed figures like Trump tried to move to Parler, an alternative to Twitter, Parler was abruptly “de-servered” by Amazon Web Services, whose servers it had relied on, as of January 10, 2021. Parler was also banned by Google and Amazon. Many saw these swift moves as Big Tech firms working together to suppress alternative viewpoints:

As part of his measure, DeSantis suggested fines of $100,000 per day for de-platforming political candidates, as well as daily fines for any company “that uses their content and user-related algorithms to suppress or prioritize the access of any content related to a political candidate or cause on the ballot.”

Mark Moore, “Florida Gov. DeSantis goes to war against ‘Big Tech,’ citing censorship of Trump” at New York Post

As of February 15, Parler was back online, using California-based Skysilk as a platform.

Many hope the trend to rein in Silicon Valley will spread. For example, novelist and screenwriter Roger L. Simon (pictured) offers specific tactical advice, aimed at Republican-governed states:

I’m writing this column to urge all Republican state legislatures and governors to pay close attention to what DeSantis has proposed and emulate, even expand on, these new regulations and legislative solutions in their states.

This would create pronounced and consequential change, and these legislatures and governors have the power to do it. Twenty-four states are fully under Republican control, and in several more, they have a majority in the legislatures.

Roger L. Simon, “All GOP State Legislatures Should Follow Gov. DeSantis’s Lead to End Big Tech Domination” at Epoch Times (February 7, 2021)

A key problem is Section 230, a clause of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which exempts social media companies from liability for “any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.” Twenty-five years later, we are looking at quite a different scene, where the controversy swirls around viewpoints perceived as objectionable:

Some have argued that social media companies have interpreted “otherwise objectionable” too broadly and that it wasn’t meant to encompass political speech that the companies claim to find “objectionable.”

The Florida proposal takes a different approach. It would first require that the companies publish their content policing standards. Major social media such as Facebook and Google-owned YouTube don’t fully explain their content policies, claiming it would lead to users dodging them. The law would apparently force them to fully reveal their standards.

Petr Svab, “Florida Anti-Censorship Proposal Seeks to Sidestep Section 230 Protections” at Epoch Times (February 9, 2021)

Texas is also a state to watch here:

“As far as the other Republican states go, the other man to watch at the moment is the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton. He’s leading multi-state lawsuits against Google and the other tech giants, targeting their monopoly power. And he also understands the censorship issue as well…

“[Wifi] in airports and schools are controlled by state governments in many cases. So if all of these state governments got together and said: ‘Look, if tech companies discriminate on the basis of viewpoint… then we’re not going to allow them on public wifi.”

Rebel News, “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis takes on Big Tech | Allum Bokhari with Ezra Levant” at Rebel News

Internationally, DeSantis is not alone either. Mexico’s president, Poland’s government, and Hungary’s justice minister all want more protection for freedom of expression for their citizens than Big Tech appears to want to provide. In Canada, a judge has allowed a plaintiff to proceed with a defamation lawsuit against Twitter because Canada does not have “get out of jail free” legislation like Section 230.

There are currently many proposals before the public as to how to rein in the power of the Big Tech oligarchs. Recently, we looked at Prof. Michael Lind’s approach, which would require Big Social Media to vet all posts or face the same liability risks as other publishers. We will look at other proposals in the weeks ahead.

Social media moguls may come to regret the big smackdown of 2020/2021. Many people who couldn’t be bothered about the problem before are now quite bothered by it.

You may also wish to read:

Prof: America now has two Constitutions — Yours and Big Tech’s People who are being debanked, depublished, and deplatformed are discovering that, whatever the Constitution says, they don’t have rights if Big Tech says they don’t. University of Texas at Austin prof Michael Lind argues that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a “Get out of jail free” card for Big Tech authoritarians. Change that, he says.

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Florida Governor, Nation States, Take On Big Tech