Legislators in Texas, Arizona, North Dakota, and Utah have introduced bills to combat Big Tech censorship, but yesterday Florida became the first state to make it law after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed “Florida’s Big Tech Bill.”
Conservatives across the country believe they have an enemy in Big Tech and are pushing for ways to curb censorship, but some critics claim that state laws aimed at checking the power of social media companies will actually hurt consumers.
On signing the bill, Gov. DeSantis countered that sentiment by stating,
“This session, we took action to ensure that ‘We the People’ — real Floridians across the Sunshine State — are guaranteed protection against the Silicon Valley elites. Many in our state have experienced censorship and other tyrannical behavior firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela. If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable.”
Lieutenant Gov. Jeanette Nunez, R, added,
“What we’ve been seeing across the U.S. is an effort to silence, intimidate, and wipe out dissenting voices by the leftist media and big corporations. Today, by signing SB 7072 into law, Florida is taking back the virtual public square as a place where information and ideas can flow freely. Many of our constituents know the dangers of being silenced or have been silenced themselves under communist rule. Thankfully in Florida we have a Governor that fights against big tech oligarchs that contrive, manipulate, and censor if you voice views that run contrary to their radical leftist narrative.”
The new Florida law fines tech companies $250,000 per day for de-platforming candidates for state office and $25,000 per day for de-platforming local candidates. It also requires social media companies to be open about their content policies and give users a seven-day warning before they are suspended, allowing them a chance to change their behavior. If Big Tech violates these conditions, users can sue Big Tech companies for up to $100,000 in damages for each proven claim.
Some lawyers and experts claim this law and similar bills being considered in other states will actually lead to more stringent censorship policies.
James Czerniawski, a tech policy analyst at Libertas Institute, said, “It’s ironic that these laws are in the name of free speech, but if you enforce them, it’s going to result in less speech online.” He added, “In reality, conservatives would lose out from it, and the laws would harm conservative voices, which is a shame.”
Carl Szabo, vice president of trade group NetChoice, said,
“This bill abandons conservative values, violates the First Amendment, and would force websites to host antisemitic, racist, and hateful content. Content moderation is crucial to an internet that is safe and valuable for families and Floridian small businesses, but this bill would undermine this important ecosystem.”
Others claim the law is unconstitutional and will never be enforced. Ari Cohn, who specializes in First Amendment law, believes that the new legislation violates Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. “These laws are very clearly not going to hold up to judicial scrutiny. And anyone who practices the First Amendment can tell you that pretty quickly.”
Utah Republican State Sen. Mike McKell, who sponsored similar legislation in his state, said, “I think it’s the exact opposite. I think this protects the First Amendment more than anything else. This is a free speech bill.”
Social media platforms are the new public forum. If one is denied a voice on social media, they are essentially denied the ability to have their voice heard, period. It is true that Big Tech companies are private businesses, but they also receive special protections that prevent them from being held liable for the content on their sites.
These companies receive special treatment yet engage in obviously politically motivated censorship, which is unacceptable. The reason state laws such as Florida’s are even being enacted is because the federal government has failed to do anything about the problem. Democrats currently have no incentive to assist with the issue because they benefit from the one-sided censorship.
Perhaps Big Tech will crack down on free speech even more due to such laws, but at least that censorship might be even across the political spectrum rather than serving as the progressive propaganda machine. Only time will tell if this type of policy at the state level will encourage Big Tech to be transparent and fair to everyone in the political and ideological arena.