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Florida Republicans take aim at social media censorship

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After President Donald Trump’s removal from several social media platforms, some Republican lawmakers are calling for action against what they call censorship.

Following Wednesday’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram banned Trump from their platforms. It’s a move applauded by Florida Democrats like state Sen. Perry Thurston.

“We have never seen a president that would conduct himself in such a despicable way, so I think that his removal was justified,” Thurston said.

Google, Apple and Amazon also took action to de-platform the conservative-leaning social media app Parler.

But Florida Republicans like state Sen. Ray Rodrigues consider it an assault of free speech.

“It seems like big tech is using their resources to push their political agenda and to silence those who do not agree with them,” Rodrigues said.

Multiple bills have been filed for the 2021 legislative session to prevent de-platforming on the basis of political speech.

One bill filed in the Senate would require social media companies to inform users why they were banned within 30 days. A bill in the House goes much further, allowing users to sue if they’re banned for political or religious speech for a minimum of $75,000 in damages.

“All we’re doing here is saying, hey there’s a new business regulation. If you’re ‘X’ amount of size, you cannot discriminate based on political viewpoint,” said state Representative Anthony Sabatini, who is sponsoring the House bill.

The House bill does allow social media companies to ban users for calls to violence, posting pornography, impersonation or if a court orders the account to be removed.

“The companies could still moderate, but they can’t use the moderation exception to Section 230 to basically publish what it is they like and don’t like,” Sabatini said.

And while the Senate version currently doesn’t go as far as the house’s, the sponsor pledged to make it stronger as it moves through the Legislature.

If the legislation ultimately passes, it could potentially be used by Trump, a Florida resident, to seek retribution for his bans from social media platforms.