Challenges Face Florida Law on Content Moderation Decisions by Social Media Companies

In May, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into effect a law that would subject social media companies to fines for deplatforming political candidates. The new law also opens up social media companies to lawsuits by individuals or the state attorney general based on unfair applications of their content moderation rules. Governor DeSantis has described the law as a way to prevent tech companies from silencing or censoring conservative viewpoints. It may have been inspired in part by the social media suspensions imposed on President Donald Trump after the unrest at the US Capitol building in January. (This law would not have protected Trump in that situation, though, since fines may be imposed only when a political candidate currently running for office is deplatformed.) The law will take effect on July 1.

The state now faces a lawsuit from organizations representing tech giants such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google. Arguing that the new law is unconstitutional, they also will seek an injunction to prevent the law from being enforced. Many legal scholars agree with the plaintiffs that the law violates the US Constitution and other federal laws.

In addition to bringing a constitutional challenge, the tech industry groups argue that the new law is a bad policy. It could deter tech companies from cracking down on pornography, hate speech, and other forms of content that may be harmful to users. According to the plaintiffs, this could leave Florida internet users more vulnerable to criminal activities.

Since conservatives nationwide are developing parallel laws to the new Florida law, a victory in court against this law could have significant repercussions. This would be especially true if the court rules that the law is unconstitutional on its face. Although the court’s ruling would not be binding on courts in other states, they might give substantial weight to a decision on a parallel law.

No federal law parallel to the Florida law likely will be passed while Democrats control the Presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. However, politicians on both sides of the aisle have shown interest in holding tech companies more strictly accountable for their content moderation decisions.

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