Technology

Tech trade groups sue Florida over new social media law

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
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Two tech grade groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against Florida over a newly signed law that would fine social media platforms that try to permanently ban political candidates. 

The complaint filed by NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) allege the Florida bill infringes on free speech protections and has a “political motive” to target companies based on the state’s opinion on companies’ content moderation decisions. 

“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 complaint states

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis (R) signed the bill Monday. It would prohibit most tech companies, with an exception for companies that own and operate theme parks, from banning politicians in the state.

The law allows the Florida Election Commission to impose fines of $250,000 per day on companies that de-platform candidates for statewide office, and $25,000 per day for companies that de-platform candidates for nonstatewide offices. 

“U.S. free speech principles protect the public from government penalties for speech; they do not protect elected officials from the speech choices of the public. Forcing a company to publish government officials’ speech is more characteristic of last-century dictatorships than 21st-century democracies,” CCIA President Matt Schruers said in a statement. 

Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for DeSantis, defended the law in response to the suit. 

“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 have no comment on any specific lawsuit, but we anticipated legal challenges. We are confident that this new legislation has a strong legal basis and protects Floridians’ constitutional rights,” Pushaw said in an email. 

In a statement Monday, the governor had touted the measure as a way to hold “Big Tech” accountable for enforcing rules “inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology.” 

Pushaw also highlighted DeSantis’s comments in an interview with The Spectator after the bill signing where he acknowledged that the law would “absolutely be challenged.” 

“We’re basically advancing a state consumer fraud theory. You know, they’re advertising certain things, they have certain service terms. They’re not abiding by that. That is a fraud on the public. So we think that that will be upheld, but we absolutely anticipate litigation,” DeSantis said at the time.

The law also faced pushback from Democrats in the state legislature, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) deemed it an “invitation for extremists, racists and liars to register as political candidates just to keep their posts online.” 

Republicans have accused tech platforms of unsubstantiated claims of censoring content due to an anticonservative bias, and the allegations have grown louder since platforms took action to permanently ban or suspend former  President Trump’s account over posts he made following the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

—Updated at 4:31 p.m.

Tags CCIA Donald Trump Florida netchoice Ron DeSantis Ron Wyden
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