DeSantis signs bill to fine tech companies for banning politicians
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill Monday that will fine social media platforms that try to permanently ban political candidates.
DeSantis and other Republicans have touted the bill as a way to protect Floridians over accusations of tech giants censoring GOP lawmakers, but it faced pushback from Democrats in the state legislature and the tech industry over imposing control over how platforms moderate content.
The bill prohibits most tech companies from banning politicians in the state. Under the newly signed law, the Florida Election Commission can impose fines of $250,000 per day on any social media company that deplatforms any candidate for statewide office and $25,000 per day for deplatforming candidates for non-statewide offices.
The push is fueled by allegations leveled by a number of Republicans that social media companies are censoring content with an anti-conservative bias. Such accusations, however, have been debunked.
“If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable,” DeSantis said in a statement.
The accusations have been grown louder after tech platforms’ action to permanently ban or suspend former President Trump over posts he made following the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Net Choice, a trade group for internet companies, slammed the signing of the bill.
“The First Amendment prohibits the government from compelling or controlling speech on private websites,” Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, said in a statement. “If this law could somehow be enforced, it would allow lawful but awful user posts including pornography, violence, and hate speech that will make it harder for families to safely navigate online.”
“By forcing websites to host speech, this bill takes us closer to a state-run internet where the government can cherry pick winners and losers,” Szabo added.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also slammed the law, calling it an “invitation for extremists, racists and liars to register as political candidates just to keep their posts online.”
“People eager to chip away at core First Amendment protections for speech must remember that the consequences won’t just impact content they dislike – they’ll apply to everything. Government control of speech on, or off-line, will inevitably be abused by those in power, as made crystal clear by Republican state legislatures at home, and governments abroad like India and China that are already censoring critics,” Wyden said in a statement.
Szabo noted the bill’s exception put in place that protects any enforcement for Disney. The company’s Orlando theme park notably brings in significant tax revenue for the state.
The bill has an exemption for any internet search engine or software provider operated by “a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex.” Florida Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (R) reportedly said the exemption was put in place to ensure that the Disney Plus streaming service “isn’t caught up in this.”
“By carving out companies like Disney and Universal, Florida’s legislature revealed its anti-tech fervor and true intent to punish social media for allegations of anti-conservative bias,” Szabo said.
Spokespeople for Twitter and Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chamber of Progress, a self-described “center-left” tech industry coalition, criticized the new law for limiting tech companies’ ability to combat hate speech and disinformation. Both Twitter and Facebook are corporate partners that support the Chamber of Progress.
“At a time when many people want to see healthier online communities free of hate and conspiracy theories, this bill ties platforms’ hands in the fight against toxic and incendiary content. It would turn Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube into anything-goes sites like 4Chan and Gab. Fortunately, the bill is so clearly unconstitutional that its authors’ efforts to turn the Internet into a cesspool of lies and hate should be short-lived,” Chamber of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich said in a statement.
—Updated at 5 p.m.
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