A federal judge blocked Florida's new law targeting social media companies
A federal judge's decision to block a recent Florida law that penalizes social media companies for stopping politicians' posts could imperil the future of such bills. In June, Gov. Ron DeSantis passed a controversial bill that would punish tech companies for censoring politicians. The bill would act as a significant step toward combating "cancel culture" and Big Tech's monopoly on online communications.
The bill also drew the ire of both tech companies and legal analysts alike. The tech trade group NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association filed a lawsuit against the Florida attorney general. The two trade association's legal representatives argue that the bill limited the First Amendment rights of tech companies and was unconstitutional.
Now, the bill has been blocked by a federal judge days before it would become law. In a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida wrote that he found the bill unconstitutional. Hinkle scolded the state's officials for arguing that they "were on the side of the First Amendment; the [social media companies] were not. It is perhaps a nice sound bite. But the assertion is wholly at odds with accepted constitutional principles." Hinkle said that "concentration of market power among large social media providers does not change the governing First Amendment principles."
Hinkle went on to compare DeSantis's new law to "burning the house to roast a pig" and said he believes that the plaintiffs "are likely to prevail on the merits of their claim that these statutes violate the First Amendment." The entire injunction should be considered an extensive and thoughtful exploration of why the bill was "blatantly unconstitutional," said Caitlin Vogus, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's Free Expression Project.
NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association both found the court decision to be a net positive. "This decision upholding the Constitution and federal law is encouraging," wrote the association's president, Matt Schruers. "It reaffirms what we have been saying: Florida's statute is an extraordinary overreach, designed to penalize private businesses for their perceived lack of deference to the Government's political ideology. The court's ruling is a win for internet users and the First Amendment."
What remains to be seen is how this decision affects other states. While Florida's bill has received the most attention, other states have attempted to pass similar bills. For example, the Texas Senate tried to pass a similar bill in March with the support of Gov. Greg Abbott, although it failed in the House. North Carolina and Louisiana also have similar bills on the books in the coming terms.
"I just don't think any of these politicians at the state level are capable of having the kind of discipline it would take to pass a narrow bill and not kneecap it with all of this rhetoric." So argued Corbin Barthold, internet policy counsel at TechFreedom. "The whole point of the bill is to attack perceived political enemies, not provide substantial legal changes to the system," Barthold argued that the bill is more performative for politicians such as DeSantis and that burying it in Republican talking points limits the viability of it appealing at all to any Democrat or independent voters.
DeSantis stated that he would try to appeal Hinkle's decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, sparking a long series of legal decisions. However, both Barthold and Vogus see the odds of the appeal succeeding to be reasonably low.
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Tags: Technology, Business, Big Tech, Ron DeSantis, Florida, Law, Censorship, Section 230, Free Speech, First Amendment
Original Author: Christopher Hutton
Original Location: A federal judge blocked Florida's new law targeting social media companies