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

A controversial Florida law that would have banned certain social media platforms from banning political candidates or “journalistic companies” 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 the media, was the first of its kind to be signed.

“We are pleased that the court has ensured that social media can be family friendly by delaying Florida law from its entry into force on July 1,” said Steve DelBianco, president of NetChoice, an industry group that was one of the plaintiffs in question to annul the law, he said in a statement. “This order protects private companies against the demand of the State that social networks carry messages from users that are against their community standards.”

U law was proposed by Governor Ron DeSantis of January, shortly after President Trump had been banned or suspended many social media platforms – in particular Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – to encourage the January 6 insurrection of the Capitol building. The law came even after years of unfoundedness complaints from conservatives that Big Tech companies have unfairly moderated their speech, and then the failure of Trump’s own multi-tip attack on Section 230, a federal law that allows online platforms to moderate user content as it sees fit. Research, however, has shown that platforms do not discriminate against conservative content. If anything, do the exactly the opposite.

The Social Media Stop Censorship Act easily passed the House and Senate to Florida’s Republican majority. DeSantis signed into law in May, a move he celebrated on the same social network platforms states that they unjustly censor conservative politicians and have made such a law necessary.

Among other things, the law would have fined social media platforms $ 250,000 a day for banning candidates for statewide office, and $ 25,000 for candidates for lower offices, and would have allowed the state and individuals to file a lawsuit on the platforms if they feel the law had been violated. Also, any content that was “by or about” a candidate could not be “shadow prohibited,” or hidden or suppressed from the view of other users. The law only applied to social media platforms that did business in the state (basically, they had users in Florida) and had an annual turnover of $ 100 million or at least 100 million monthly active users worldwide. Platforms belonging to a company that also owned a theme park in the state were exempt.

Many experts said from the beginning that the law was on shaky legal ground. Industry groups representing interested Big Tech companies – NetChoice and the IT and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) – cited in question the state to repeal the law a few days after DeSantis ’signature, alleging that it violated the rights of First and 14th Amendment of those companies and that moderation of content was permitted under Section 230.

The plaintiffs have asked for a preliminary injunction preventing them from coming into force before a court can decide on its constitutionality. Both parties defended their case before Federal Judge Robert Hinkle on June 28. Hinkle he made little effort to the hearing to hide his disdain for the law, saying he was “poorly worded” and questioned why he offered a exemption for companies operating theme parks in Florida – a seemingly naked attempt to give the state’s biggest tourist attractions special treatment even if none of them have social media platforms to which the law would apply.

So it wasn’t a big surprise when Hinkle agreed to the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary initiation, saying the law was “an effort to reinforce social media providers considered too big and too liberal” and “not a legitimate interest of the government.” It was also discriminatory and potentially violated the rights of freedom of expression of the First Amendment of Big Tech platforms, since it did not apply to smaller platforms or to any platform owned by a company with a theme park in Florida .

“Discrimination between speakers is often an information for content discrimination,” Hinkle wrote. Thus, a law supposedly designed to prevent content discrimination may itself be practicing content discrimination.

Finally, the judge said the law “expressly” violated Section 230, which allows platforms to moderate content, and says no state can make a law that is inconsistent with Section 230.

The plaintiffs were happy with the decision.

“This decision to defend the Constitution and federal law is encouraging, and reaffirms what we have said: the Florida Statute is an excessive overhaul, intended to penalize private companies for their perceived lack of deference to ideology. government policy, ”CCIA President Matt Schruers said he said in a statement. “The court’s decision is a victory for Internet users and the First Amendment.”

His case will now make its way through the legal system, but social media companies will not be welcomed in the meantime – unless, of course, the injunction is successfully appealed by the state. The governor’s office told Recode that it plans to appeal “immediately” and was “disappointed” by the decision.

“As Judge Hinkle appeared to point out during this week’s hearing on preliminary injunction, this case was still tied to Circuit 11 and the appellate court will ultimately make its own decision on the legal findings.” , said Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary. “Governor DeSantis continues to fight for freedom of expression and against Big Tech’s discriminatory censorship.”

Regardless of what happens at the end of DeSantis ’law, he took his hit at Big Tech and repeated unfounded popular claims among many in the Republican Party – and in the process, he gained political capital for his anticipated 2024 presidential race.

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