Federal judge blocks Florida social media “censorship” law defended by Governor Ron DeSantis


A controversial Florida law that would have prohibited some social media platforms from banning political candidates or “journalistic businesses” from their services was blocked hours before it went into effect. The law, which was widely seen as a response to perceived censorship by conservative politicians and media, was the first of its kind to be signed.

“We are pleased that the court ensured that social media could remain family friendly by delaying the entry into force of Florida law on July 1,” Steve DelBianco, chairman of NetChoice, an industry group that was the ‘one of the plaintiffs to quash the law, said in a press release. “This ordinance protects private companies against the state’s demand that social media disseminate messages from users contrary to the standards of their community.”

the law was nominated by Governor Ron DeSantis in January, shortly after President Trump was banned or suspended from multiple social media platforms – including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – for encouraging the January 6 insurgency against the Capitol. The law also came after years of non-foundation Conservative complaints that big tech companies unfairly moderate their rhetoric, and after Trump’s failure attack on several fronts on section 230, a federal law that allows online platforms to moderate user content as they see fit. Research, however, has shown that platforms do not discriminate against conservative content. If anything, they do the exact opposite.

The Stop Social Media Censorship Act was easily passed by the Florida Republican-majority House and Senate. DeSantis enacted it in May, a decision he celebrated the same social media platforms he claims to unfairly censor conservative politicians and make such a law necessary.

Among other things, the law would have fined social media platforms $ 250,000 per day for banning candidates for office statewide and $ 25,000 for candidates for lower office, and allowed the state and individuals to sue the platforms if they believe the law has been violated. Additionally, any content that was “by or about” a candidate could not be “shadow banned”, hidden or removed from view by other users. The law only applied to social media platforms that did business in the state (essentially, had users in Florida) and had annual revenue of $ 100 million or at least $ 100 million. monthly active users around the world. Platforms owned by a company that also owned a theme park in the state were exempt.

Many experts said from the outset that the law rests on fragile legal bases. Industrial groups representing the major technology companies concerned – NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) – sued the state to overturn the law days after DeSantis signed it, claiming it violated those companies’ First and 14th Amendment rights and that content moderation was allowed under Section 230.

The plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction preventing it from taking effect before a court could rule on its constitutionality. The two sides argued their case before Federal Judge Robert Hinkle on June 28. Hinkle made little effort at the hearing to hide his contempt for the law, claiming it was “badly drafted” and wondering why it was offering a exemption for companies that operated theme parks in Florida – a seemingly bare attempt to give special treatment to the state’s biggest tourist attractions, even though none of them have social media platforms to which the law sits. ‘would apply.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise when Hinkle grants the request of the applicant for a preliminary injunction, saying the law was “an effort to curb social media providers deemed too big and too liberal” and “not a legitimate government interest.” It was also discriminatory and potentially violated Big Tech Platforms First Amendment free speech rights, as it did not apply to smaller platforms or platforms owned by a company with a fleet of computers. Florida theme.

“Discrimination between speakers is often indicative of content discrimination,” Hinkle wrote. That is, a law that purports to prevent content discrimination may itself discriminate in content.

Finally, the judge said the law “expressly” violates Article 230, which allows platforms to moderate content and says that no state can pass a law inconsistent with Article 230.

The complainants were satisfied with the decision.

“This decision to uphold the Constitution and Federal law is encouraging and reaffirms what we have said: Florida law is extraordinarily overbreadth, designed to penalize private companies for their perceived lack of deference to the political ideology of the United States. government, ”CCIA Chairman Matt Schruers said. said in a press release. “The court ruling is a victory for netizens and the First Amendment.”

Their case will now make its way through the court system, but social media companies will not be indebted to him in the meantime – unless, of course, the injunction is successfully challenged by the state. The governor’s office told Recode it planned to appeal “immediately” and was “disappointed” by the decision.

“As Judge Hinkle appeared to indicate at this week’s preliminary injunction hearing, this case was still tied to the 11th Circuit and the appeals court will ultimately make its own decision on the legal findings,” he said. said Christina Pushaw, DeSantis press officer. “Governor DeSantis continues to fight for free speech and against discriminatory Big Tech censorship. “

Regardless of what ultimately happens to DeSantis’ law, he was able to take his chances against Big Tech and repeat unfounded claims popular with many members of the Republican Party – and in the process, he gained political capital for his presidential candidacy. scheduled for 2024.





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