into law a restriction on social media companies’ ability to ban candidates for state offices and news outlets. Doing so directly challenged those companies’ perceived free speech rights. The law, Florida Senate Bill 7072, provides several new checks on tech and social media companies. The law is almost certain to be as unconstitutional and in direct conflict with federal rules. Among other things:
- Platforms cannot ban or deprioritize candidates for state office.
- Platforms cannot deny or deprioritize any news outlet meeting specific size requirements.
- The media must be transparent about moderation processes and notify users of moderation actions.
- Users and the state will have the right to . Statutory fines for some offenses could be as high as $250,000 per day.
The. But whether doing so amounts to censorship — actual government censorship, not the general concept of limitation frequently associated with the word — is an open question, if a somewhat obvious one, that will likely be forced by against SB 7072.
While there is much detailed precedent and analysis, the problem of “Are moderation practices of social media companies protected by the First Amendment?” is unsettled. Legal scholars and existing cases fall firmly on the “yes,” but there is no definitive precedent that Facebook or Twitter can point to.
The First Amendment argument starts with the idea that althoughare very unlike newspapers or book publishers, they are protected in much the same way by the Constitution from government interference. “Free speech” is a term that is interpreted exceptionally liberally. Still, suppose a company is considered a protected expression of ideas. In that case, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the same company applying a policy of should also be. If it is, the government prohibits interfering with it beyond very narrow definitions of unprotected speech (think shouting “fire” in a crowded theater). That would sink Florida’s law on constitutional grounds.
The other conflict is with federal law, specifically the much-discussed Section 230, which protects companies from being liable for the content they publish (i.e., the creator is responsible instead) and the choice to take down content via their chosen rules. As the law’s co-author, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), has put it, this gives those companies both a shield and a sword with which to do battle against risky speech on their platforms.
Federal andoften disagree, and there is no reconciliation handbook. On the one hand, they witnessed authorities. On the other, observe how strong consumer protection laws at the state level aren’t preempted by weaker federal ones because to do so would . But SB 7072 removes both sword and shield: It would limit who can be moderated and create a novel cause for legal action against the companies for their remaining moderation practices.
Regarding Section 230, it’s not straightforward who is protecting whom. Florida’s current state“real Floridians” against the “Silicon Valley elites.” But no doubt those elites (and let us be candid — that is precisely what they are) will point out that this is a clear-cut case of government overreach, censorship in the literal sense. These strong legal objections will inform the inevitable affected, which will probably be filed before the law takes effect and aims to overturn it.
Interestingly, two companies that will not be affected by the law are the giant, uncompromising corporations globally: Disney and Comcast. Why, do you ask? Because the law has a special exemption for any company “that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex” of a specific size. That’s right; there’s a Mouse-shaped hole in this law — and Comcast, which owns Universal Studal, also happens to fit through well.
Notably, this was added in an amendment, suggesting two of the largest employers in the state were unhappy at the idea of new liabilities for any of their digital properties. This naked pandering to local corporate donors puts proponents of this law at something of an ethical disadvantage in their righteous battle against the elites. Still, the favor may be moot in a few months when the, probably being drafted now, call for an injunction against SB 7072.