Big tech sues Florida over social media law

Trade groups representing Facebook, Twitter and Google have sued Florida over a new state law governing social media that Gov. Ron DeSantis claims will protect free speech.

The legislation, which DeSantis signed on Monday and is slated to take effect July 1, would allow the Florida Election Commission to fine social-media companies $250,000 per day if they “de-platform” candidates running for statewide office and $25,000 for candidates running for local office. It also prevents them from banning any “journalistic enterprise doing business in Florida.” 

DeSantis first came up with the idea in January after Twitter and Facebook banned then-President Donald Trump for inciting violence and spreading conspiracy theories about his election loss to President Joe Biden, which they cited as violations of their terms of service, the Tampa Bay Times reported. 

Tech trade groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association — which also represent Amazon, PayPal, TikTok, Airbnb and a slate of other firms — paint the law as violation of their First Amendment rights and a step toward a dystopian, government-controlled internet. 

“We cannot stand idly by as Florida’s lawmakers push unconstitutional bills into law that bring us closer to state-run media and a state-run internet,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice. “By weakening the First Amendment rights of some, Florida weakens the First Amendment rights of all.”

Gov. DeSantis speaks at a news conference in front of a lectern with a "Stop Big Tech" sign.
Gov. DeSantis reportedly got the idea for the new law after Facebook and Twitter banned former President Trump from their platforms.

The Florida law punishes tech companies “for taking virtually any action” to address “even highly objectionable or illegal content, no matter how much that content may conflict with their terms or policies,” the trade groups alleged in a Thursday complaint.  

DeSantis, widely considered a potential 2024 Republican candidate for president, claims the bill actually defends free speech. 

“When big tech censors enforce their rules inconsistently to discriminate in favor of the dominant ideology in Silicon Valley, they will be held accountable in the state of Florida, and all Floridians treated unfairly by big tech platforms will have the right to sue companies who violate this law,” DeSantis said the day he signed the bill.

The Florida law does not apply to internet platforms “operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex” — an exception critics say shows its political nature by placating companies like Disney and NBCUniversal that are crucial to the state’s tourism sector. 

In a statement to the Post, DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw said the governor expected the bill to spark a court battle. 

“We have no comment on any specific lawsuit, but we anticipated legal challenges,” she said. “We are confident that this new legislation has a strong legal basis and protects Floridians’ constitutional rights.”

Conservatives and some liberals have levied accusations of political bias against social media companies like Twitter and Facebook for years, gaining steam after Trump’s ban and other high-profile incidents.

This week, Facebook caught heat over its content moderation policies after it reversed a ban on articles questioning whether COVID-19 escaped from a Chinese lab. 

Gov. DeSantis speaks to news reporters.
Gov. DeSantis’ new law exempts theme park operators as well as any “journalistic enterprise doing business in Florida.”

In February 2020, Facebook slapped a “false information” tag on a Post opinion article arguing that the coronavirus may have escaped from a lab and that the Chinese government could not be trusted. Later on, the social media company outright banned any posts about the lab leak theory. 

The ban remained in place until Wednesday, when Facebook changed its policy after a Wall Street Journal report showed that US intelligence services allege that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized with COVID-19-like symptoms in November 2019.