In the current national battle between Big Tech and Big Government, a new Florida law will punish social media companies for discriminating against political viewpoints and deplatforming political candidates.
“Now more than ever, social media has really become the twenty-first century public square,” John Snyder, a Representative in the Florida House, told Mind Matters News.
“It’s evolved from what used to be just a platform where people could post thoughts and pictures to now this is a tool that people rely on to communicate with their family, to talk with their friends, to air their grievances, and really to conduct business. It’s my firm belief that someone’s viewpoints and ideas should not have any weight on their place in the worldwide web.”
Senate Bill 7072 protects both private citizens and politicians from unfair online censorship. Private citizens will be given a legal route to sue a social media company that engages in discriminatory censorship. Candidates for state office will be protected from being deplatformed in the way that former President Donald Trump was deplatformed from Facebook and Twitter in January.
The bill also attempts to increase transparency and enforce consistency in social media standards. Under this law, companies are required to publish their standards and to inform users of any changes made to those standards. Additionally, they are restricted from making changes in their standards more often than every 30 days.
Social media companies would face financial consequences for violating the law, including up to $250,000 a day for the removal of a political candidate.
The bill states that “Floridians increasingly rely on social media platforms to express their opinions,” that “Social media platforms have transformed into the new public town square,” and that they “have become as important for conveying public opinion as public utilities are for supporting modern society.”
The bill accuses social media companies of acting in bad faith when they “unfairly censor, shadow ban, deplatform, or apply post-prioritization algorithms.” It asserts that the state has “substantial interest” in protecting its residents from these actions.
Snyder explained that a common misunderstanding about the bill is that it will ban social media platforms from taking any action against a user who violates their standards. “That is a myth,” said Snyder. “What this bill does is say that social media companies must act fairly and apply their standards equally across the board. We do not want them targeting a specific thought process or viewpoint.”
One of the potential threats to the efficacy of this bill is Section 230, a federal code that absolves social media companies of responsibility for what is posted on their sites while still granting them editorial power.
In his remarks at the Miami signing, Governor DeSantis voiced his concern about the power of big tech corporations. He explained that America’s founders created a government with checks and balances and a separation of powers, recognizing that centralized authority is a threat to liberty. Monopolistic social media companies, on the other hand, have no such accountability.
“…what we’ve seen in recent years is a shift away from internet platforms, social media platforms from really being liberating forces to now being enforcers of orthodoxy,” said DeSantis. “And so their primary mission, or one of their primary missions, seems to be suppressing ideas that are either inconvenient to the narrative or that they personally disagree with.”
Steven DelBianco – the president of NetChoice, a tech trade group – issued a statement against the legislation, calling it a threat to the free speech rights of private companies: “The First Amendment makes clear that government may not regulate the speech of private individuals or businesses. This includes government action that compels speech by forcing a private social media platform to carry content that is against its policies or preferences.”
The bill has also faced opposition from Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith (D): “There’s already a solution to deplatforming candidates on social media: Stop trafficking in conspiracy theories. That’s the solution. Stop pushing misinformation if you’re a candidate or an incumbent elected official. Stop retweeting QAnon. Stop lying on social media. Stop inciting insurrection against our republic. We’re hearing this bill because Twitter finally deplatformed former President Trump after five people were killed in an insurrection he incited at the U.S. Capitol.”
But according to Rep. Snyder, this bill is about defending free speech for Floridians. “What this bill is about is sending a loud message to Silicon Valley that they are not the absolute arbiter of truth,” he recently told Fox News. “What this bill does is send a loud message that the Constitution does not have an asterisk that says only certain free speech is free and protected.”
Florida is the first state to pass a bill banning the deplatforming of political candidates. The festive mood overlay growing tension with Big Tech and Big Media:
Snyder hopes that Washington, D.C. will take notice, and that other states will follow Florida’s lead.
“…this is something that affects every American. The idea that your view or your thoughts can get you taken off of these platforms for no reason with no recourse should frighten every single Floridian and every single American. My hope is that this is just the first step in many and the rest of the country will see Florida taking the lead on this, and will join us in this effort.”