Florida plans fines of up to $250,000 per day for social media companies that ban candidates for public office from online platforms.
A new Florida law aims to punish social media companies that ban certain users, but experts say that the plan won't hold up to a legal challenge. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill this week that fines social media companies that block people running for public office from a platform. The state election commission could issue fines of $250,000 per day for people running for state office and $25,000 for other candidates.
Elisa D'Amico, a lawyer at K&L Gates, said that proponents of the law argue that it preserves First Amendment protections for Floridians. However, the law also allows the state to limit the ability of social media platforms to decide what kind of content they want to host and what users they want to exclude from, or allow on, their platforms.
"This violates the First Amendment rights of social media platforms by permitting the state government to compel these private actors to express speech that may or may not be against their will," she said.
D'Amico said that social media companies could use geoblocking to restrict access to the platform based on a user's location, but that it would be easy for users to get around this kind of block by using a VPN, for instance.
"It would be virtually impossible for a platform to implement processes and policies that would ensure strict compliance with a law like this," she said.
Bret Jacobson, president of the digital advocacy firm Red Edge, said that the law is dumb, unconsitutional and unamerican with no real policy upside.
"It's going to be dead in the courts pretty quickly because there are few times in life where one sees a more direct imposition on private speech than this law," he said. "It's primarily a political vehicle rather than a good faith policy effort."
Jacobson said that the law has the potential to make the user experience on the platform much worse.
"One thing that you don't ever hear people demanding is to have the craziest political voices forced upon them," he said. "Republicans need to get back to winning on ideas instead of whining about rules on websites."
Jacobson said that social media platforms should provide the public with clear explanations about how they apply their rules evenly to all parties.
"The social media companies have been successful at getting out the really bad material that we don't want kids to see but there's tons of confusion about what kind of speech will get you muted or banned," he said.
Jacobson also said that social media companies have made the mistake of trying to determine what information is truthful and what is not.
"Platforms need to improve their transparency but also need to strategically pivot to clarifying that it's not their role to be arbiters of truth," he said.
Also, the Florida law doesn't make any mention of social media users who incite violence, which could increase the chance of causing harm to individuals, Jacobson said. The law allows suspensions of up to 14 days and for companies to remove individual posts that violate the terms of service.
Tech industry trade group NetChoice testified against the legislation earlier this year and opposes the new law.
Sponsors of the bill said they want to hold big tech accountable, but a bipartisan group of opponents described the bill as unconstitutional and could make it harder for social media companies to moderate dangerous content, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The newspaper also reported that DeSantis proposed the idea in January with state lawmakers, just after former President Donald Trump had been banned by Facebook and Twitter.
The law goes into effect on July 1 and includes an exemption for a "company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex," much like Florida's biggest tourist attraction.
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