‘Big Tech’ sues Florida over new social media law

By John Haughey | The Center Square contributor, May 28, 2021

(The Center Square) – Two lobbying associations that partner with Twitter and Google are challenging the legality of Florida’s new social media law.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming Senate Bill 7072, signed into law Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is unconstitutional.

The suit alleges SB 7072 violates the First Amendment by compelling social media companies to host “highly objectionable or illegal content” and penalizing them for blocking or hiding content.

“We are bringing this suit to safeguard the industry’s free speech right to deliver on their commitments to users to mitigate harmful content online” CCIA President Matt Schruers said in a statement.

“By constraining digital services’ ability to fight bad actors online, this law threatens to make the Internet a safe space for criminals, miscreants, and foreign agents, putting Floridians at risk,” he continued. “Gov. DeSantis is correct that this is a free speech issue: a digital service that declines to host harmful content is exercising its own First Amendment rights.”

DeSantis and GOP leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature made penalizing “Big Tech” a 2021 session priority after Twitter and other social media companies banished then-President Donald Trump and other conservatives from their platforms following the U.S. Capitol riot.

“When you de-platform the President of the United States but you let Ayatollah Khomeini talk about killing Jews, that is wrong,” DeSantis said Monday when he signed the bill during a ceremony at Florida International University in Miami.

Claiming social media corporations have more power than the monopolies and trusts of the late 1800s, DeSantis said the new “public square” is being manipulated by censors “in pajamas on their laptop drinking a soy latte in Silicon Valley.”

Under SB 7072, users could sue in state courts and collect as much as $100,000 for every day a site kicks them off, deletes a post, or uses its algorithms to limit exposure to their posts.

“De-platforming” political candidates from a social media site could be prosecuted under Florida’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. Penalties would be as high as $250,000 a day for statewide candidates and $25,000 per day for local candidates.

SB 7072 would allow social media users to opt out of a platform’s algorithms that determine what appears highest on their feed. They could demand platforms feed them posts in the order written.

After signing the bill, DeSantis embarked on a media tour where he was hailed as “America’s Governor” by talk radio host Mark Levin and later told Fox News’ Sean Hannity he anticipated lawsuits challenging the new law.

“You can set your clock by it,” DeSantis told Hannity, musing the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The clock struck Thursday when CCIA and NetChoice filed their 70-page complaint in the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, asserting violations of the First and Fourteenth amendments and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

“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 asserts.

“This is evident from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ own press release that touts the act as a means to ‘take back the virtual public square’ from ‘the leftist media and big corporations,’ who supposedly “discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology,” it says.

The Governor’s Office does not comment on specific lawsuits, but DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told Florida Politics that “Big Tech” is outraged at the state’s audacity in “questioning Silicon Valley orthodoxy.”

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