Florida House set to target social media companies

File photo
File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a politically charged issue that has become a rallying cry for Gov. Ron DeSantis and many other Republicans, a House committee Tuesday will take up a proposal that targets large social-media companies that block users from their platforms.

The bill (PCB COM 21-01), which will go before the House Commerce Committee, stems in part from decisions by Twitter and Facebook to block former President Donald Trump from their platforms in January after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to prevent certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.

DeSantis and Republican legislative leaders last month announced they would set new requirements for social-media companies, including clearing the way for lawsuits and financial penalties against platforms that violate the requirements.

Speaking before an audience of conservative activists Friday at the CPAC conference in Orlando, DeSantis said Florida is leading in “protecting our people from political censorship and in holding big tech accountable.”

“When our legislature convenes next month, it will pass and I will sign, the most ambitious reforms yet proposed for combatting political censorship and deplatforming, for preventing big tech from interfering in our elections and for safeguarding the privacy of your personal data,” DeSantis said, referring to the legislative session that starts Tuesday.

But House Minority Co-leader Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, blasted Republicans for focusing on the issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it’s “not going to bring back the 30,000 dead Floridians, and it’s not going to bring back the businesses that failed because we didn’t have a real COVID plan.”

“I would suggest to them to get their eye back on the ball and quit with the politics,” Jenne said Monday. “They had a good campaign cycle. Worry about the next one, but let’s legislate and actually govern while we are here, and not placate campaign consultants who think it is a good idea to hit on certain topics and legislation.”

Tuesday’s committee meeting will be the first full airing of a bill to carry out DeSantis’ vow to pass legislation. Among other things, the bill would bar social-media companies from blocking political candidates from their platforms, with the Florida Elections Commission given power to fine the platforms $100,000 a day for blocking statewide candidates and $10,000 a day for other candidates.

The bill is targeted at large platforms, as it would apply to social-media companies that have at least $100 million in annual gross revenues or at least 100 million monthly “individual platform participants” globally.

A House staff analysis, however, raises questions about whether the bill would be subject to legal challenges under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and Supremacy Clause, which largely gives precedence to federal laws over state laws.

“Businesses are afforded some of the same First Amendment rights as individuals,” the staff analysis said. “Generally, businesses cannot be compelled to host speech with which it disagrees absent a mandate that has been narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. Some of the provisions of the bill may implicate First Amendment protections regarding speech by a business.”

The 21-page bill includes a number of proposals, including preventing social-media companies from using techniques known as “post-prioritization” and “shadow banning” against users who are political candidates. Those techniques, for example, can be used to place content in less-prominent positions on news feeds or to limit exposure to content on social-media sites.

More broadly, the bill would require social-media companies to “apply censorship, deplatforming, and shadow banning standards in a consistent manner among its users on the platform” and would require notice to be given to people whose content would be censored.

The bill would allow the attorney general to file lawsuits against companies that violate the requirements and would allow individual users to file lawsuits over censorship decisions.

--- News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.


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