Court Blocks Enforcement of Florida’s Social Media Law

On May 24, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 7072 (An act relating to social media platforms) under which (as described by Gov. DeSantis):

  • Floridians treated unfairly by Big Tech platforms will have the right to sue companies that violate this law — and win monetary damages. This reform safeguards the rights of every Floridian by requiring social media companies to be transparent about their content moderation practices and give users proper notice of changes to those policies, which prevents Big Tech bureaucrats from “moving the goalposts” to silence viewpoints they don’t like.
  • The Attorney General of Florida could bring action against technology companies that violate this law, under Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
  • Big Tech is prohibited from de-platforming Floridian political candidates. The Florida Election Commission will impose fines of $250,000 per day on any social media company that de-platforms any candidate for statewide office, and $25,000 per day for de-platforming candidates for non-statewide offices.

The Florida statute clearly was a grandstanding attempt to respond to Twitter’s and Facebook’s ban of then-President Trump by Gov. DeSantis (a Trump acolyte) and the Republican legislature.

On June 30th, federal judge Robert Hinkle (ND Fla.) enjoined enforcement of the law. The court found that:

  • Imposing penalties on social media platforms for deplatforming political candidates or restricting access to certain content is preempted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; and
  • Rejected the bill’s attempt to force social media platforms to carry content as violative of the First Amendment.

The legislation now at issue was an effort to rein in social-media providers deemed too large and too liberal. Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest. And even aside from the actual motivation for this legislation, it is plainly content-based and subject to strict scrutiny.