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Groups Seek Quick Stop To Florida Social-Media Law

The South Florida Sun Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE --- With the law slated to take effect July 1, two online-industry groups have asked a federal judge to quickly block a measure that Gov. Ron DeSantis championed to crack down on large social-media platforms.

NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association filed a motion Thursday seeking a preliminary injunction and requested “expedited consideration.” They contend the law, passed by the Legislature in April, would violate First Amendment rights and harm companies’ efforts to moderate content.

“Unless enjoined before taking effect, the act will throw into legal jeopardy countless moderation measures taken by these businesses on a continual basis, will flatly bar them from removing or regulating large swaths of online content that might be highly objectionable or in violation of their rules and require them to send millions of new, detailed notices to their users,” the motion said. “The result would be to expose billions of users online, including families and children, to illegal, dangerous and objectionable material and to require fundamental and far-reaching changes to how plaintiffs’ members operate their businesses.”

The groups filed suit May 27 in federal court in Tallahassee, three days after DeSantis signed the measure (SB 7072) while describing Florida as a “trailblazer.” The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, according to an online docket.

DeSantis made the issue a priority after his ally, former President Donald Trump, was blocked from Facebook and Twitter after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The governor and Republican lawmakers described the law as protecting free speech.

In part, the measure seeks to bar social-media companies from removing political candidates from platforms. Companies that violate the prohibition could face fines of $250,000 a day for statewide candidates and $25,000 a day for other candidates.

Also, a key part of the law would require social-media companies to publish standards about issues such as blocking users and apply the standards consistently. In addition, customers could file lawsuits if social-media companies violate parts of the law.

“What we have seen in recent years is a shift away from internet platforms and social-media platforms from really being liberating forces to now being enforcers of orthodoxy,” DeSantis said. “So, their primary mission or one of their major missions seems to be suppressing ideas that are either inconvenient to the narrative or which they personally disagree with.”

But the lawsuit and the request for a preliminary injunction argue, in part, the measure violates First Amendment rights and is politically motivated. The law is designed to address large online platforms, as it applies to companies that have annual gross revenues of more than $100 million or have at least 100 million monthly individual “participants” globally.

“At its core, (the bill) upends the rights of a targeted group of online services to decide what material to display and how that material should be presented,” a legal memorandum filed Thursday said. “In other words, the act takes away these private companies’ ability to make editorial judgments --- a fundamental component of the ‘freedom of speech’ protected by the First Amendment. Indeed, the act is designed to single out certain online services for special limits on their speech because of the state authorities’ open hostility to their perceived political views and ‘ideology.’ The law is blatantly unconstitutional.”

The groups also contend that the measure violates a federal law that Thursday’s memorandum said “specifically protects online service providers’ right to engage in ‘private blocking and screening of offensive material’ and expressly prohibits states from adopting conflicting regulations.”

The federal law, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, has drawn widespread scrutiny as the breadth and power of online platforms have grown.

Jim Saunders / News Service of Florida
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