This past Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill targeting Big Tech and its ability to suspend or ban the social media accounts of political candidates. The move comes after the permanent ban of former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account amid the January 6th insurrection.
The newly signed bill severely limits the power of tech platforms when it comes to moderating and banning political speech and internet trolls on social media.
Companies that suspend the account of a political candidate for more than 14 days will be considered to be in violation of the bill, making them subject to potential fines of $250,000 per day for statewide candidates and $25,000 for other candidates.
The bill also extends to citizens not running for office. Under the bill, Florida residents will be able to sue companies for de-platforming with account bans and suspensions.
The Attorney General of Florida would be able to bring action against violators of the bill with the creation of an antitrust violator blacklist.
The power of big tech
The bill marks a step many find controversial in the long-standing conversation around the power of tech companies in the current political landscape.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the sole Democrat in the Florida state cabinet, retaliated against the legislation on Twitter. “Floridians deserve a governor who’s focused on working for them, not for the former guy,” said Fried.
DeSantis’ action is one of the largest yet in the United States against cries of social media censorship, but Florida isn’t the first state with such legislation.
In March of 2021, the Texas Senate approved a bill that would prohibit social media platforms with at least 100 million monthly users from censoring Texans based on the viewpoints they express.
“Many in our state have experienced censorship and other tyrannical behavior firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela,” said DeSantis, “If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable.”
DeSantis says accountability is the goal, but many critics have retaliated against a bill they consider unconstitutional. The First Amendment is a source of conflict, with a number of court cases prohibiting the government from interfering with private companies’ speech.
The source of controversy
The most direct conflict with the bill is the Federal law– namely Section 230. The law functions on two relevant parts: Companies aren’t liable for content posted by users, and they can take down content they choose according to their own set of rules.
The new Florida legislation acts in direct competition with Section 230, a law already controversial among Democrats in favor of regulation and Republicans opposed to restriction.
During his tenure, Trump signed an executive order “limiting the scope” of Section 230 and its liability shield. President Joe Biden has since revoked the order, but the issue still stands.
DeSantis announced his support for the bill after the official Twitter ban of Trump, and the bill comes in the middle of an era of frenzy around free speech and “fake news”.
Despite the bill’s timing, it would not be applicable to Trump’s account unless he ran for office again. Still, the legislation brings to light the long conversation around freedom of speech in an online space.
DeSantis’ action opens a heated debate on Big Tech’s existing regulatory framework and what the limits of free speech are among both platforms and its users.