Technology trade companies representing Facebook, Twitter, and Google are suing Florida over its new law regulating the editorial and censorship powers of large social media platforms.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 7072 into law on May 24, the first of its kind in the nation to curb the powers of online companies to remove and censor content and users.
NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) – technology trade groups that have been vocal about their opposition to the law – filed the lawsuit against Florida the following Thursday in Tallahassee federal court.
DeSantis and other supporters of the new law argue that its purpose is to safeguard the First Amendment rights of ordinary Florida citizens in online spaces. NetChoice and CCIA allege that, to the contrary, the law is a violation of the First Amendment rights of businesses.
The lawsuit calls the law’s restrictions “unprecedented” and “a blatant attack” on the editorial choices social media companies are compelled to make.
Censorship is critical, according to the lawsuit, in order to protect the public from content such as “pornography, terrorist incitement, false propaganda created and spread by foreign governments, calls for genocide or race-based violence, disinformation regarding Covid-19 vaccines, fraudulent schemes, egregious violations of intellectual property rights, bullying and harassment, conspiracy theories denying the Holocaust or 9/11, and dangerous computer viruses.”
The complaint states that the law is a violation of the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (a code that protects online business from lawsuit for its editorial decisions).
The complaint goes on to read:
Rather than preventing what it calls ‘censorship,’ the Act does the exact opposite: it empowers government officials in Florida to police the protected editorial judgment of online businesses that the State disfavors and whose perceived political viewpoints it wishes to punish. The Act is a frontal assault on the First Amendment and an extraordinary intervention by the government in the free marketplace of ideas that would be unthinkable for traditional media, book sellers, lending libraries, or newsstands.
Florida House representative John Snyder explained to Mind Matters News that a common misunderstanding about the bill is that it will ban social media platforms from taking any action against a user who violates any of 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.”
In response to the lawsuit, DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw offered a statement:
Big Tech is in some ways more powerful than government, and certainly less accountable. Free speech is a sacred right for all Americans. It is recognized that government has a role in protecting consumers against discrimination and deceptive/unfair trade practices, and this law is within that authority to rein in a powerful entity that oversteps individuals’ free speech rights. We are confident that this new legislation has a strong legal basis and protects Floridians’ constitutional rights.
The law, which will go into effect on July 1, requires social media companies to be more transparent about their moderation practices and provides Florida citizens a legal route to sue social media companies who engage in discriminatory censorship. Additionally, it would ban those companies from deplatforming the accounts of political candidates for state and local offices.
The Florida Election Commission will be vested with the power to fine social media companies up to $250,000 a day for deplatforming a political candidate running for state office, and up to $25,000 a day for politicians running at the local level.
Disney and Universal Studios are exempted, which critics of the law have called unfair.