Florida’s social media law is unconstitutional, federal appeals court


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A Florida law aimed at penalizing social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, which a federal appeals court ruled Monday that gave the companies accused by GOP Governor Ron DeSantis a major victory. to discriminate against conservative thought.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, unanimously concluded that it was excessive for DeSantis and the Republican-led Florida Legislature to tell social media companies how to conduct their work under the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech.

“Simply put, with minor exceptions, the government cannot tell a private individual or organization what to say or how to say it,” said Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom, appointed by former President Donald Trump. “We think there is a good chance that social media companies – even the largest ones – are private actors whose First Amendment protects their rights.”

The ruling upheld a similar ruling by a Florida federal district judge into law signed by DeSantis in 2021. , especially from the political right.

“Some of these huge, huge corporations in Silicon Valley exert a power over our population that is truly unprecedented in American history,” DeSantis said at a bill signing ceremony in May 2021. “One of their main tasks seems to be to suppress ideas.”

But the appeals panel ruled that the tech companies’ actions were protected, with Judge Newsom writing that Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and others “engaged in meaningful activities that were constitutionally protected when they moderated and curated the content they spread on their platforms.”

There was no immediate response to emails regarding the decision from DeSantis’ press secretary or communications director Monday afternoon. DeSantis is running for reelection this year and is tracking a potential run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. He was the first governor to pass such a bill, although similar ones have been proposed in other states.

One of them was allowed to go into effect in Texas by the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals, and the tech companies involved there are seeking urgent review as to whether the U.S. Supreme Court will block it. Any decision on this was not immediately published.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association, a nonprofit group that represents technology and communications companies, said the decision represents a victory for Internet users and freedom of expression in general, particularly regarding potentially offensive content.

“When a digital service takes action against problematic content on its site – whether it’s extremism, Russian propaganda or racism and abuse – it exercises its right to freedom of expression,” CCIA President Matt Schruers said in a statement.

As it comes into effect, the law will empower Florida’s attorney general to sue companies under the state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trading Practices Act. It will also allow individual Floridans to sue social media companies for up to $100,000 if they feel they have been wronged.

The bill targeted social media platforms with more than 100 million monthly users, which includes online giants like Twitter and Facebook. But lawmakers, Walt Disney Co. and they made an exception by including that theme park owners will not be subject to the law for their practices.

The law requires major social media companies to publish standards for how they decide on “censorship, de-platforming and shadow ban.”

The appeals court, however, overruled almost all the powers of the law, except for a few lesser provisions in the law.

“Social media platforms make editorial judgments that are impressive in nature. When platforms choose to remove users or posts, de-prioritize content in viewers’ posts or search results, or penalize violations of community standards, they engage in activities protected by the First Amendment,” Newsom wrote to the court.


Associated Press writers Mark Sherman in Washington and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.


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