Appeals Court Keeps Florida’s Social Media Censorship Law On Hold Due To 1st Amendment Concerns


Topline

A Florida law prohibiting social media companies from “deplatforming” political candidates will remain blocked—even after a similar law in Texas was allowed to take effect—as a federal appeals court sided Monday with a lower court’s ruling against the law and ruled it’s “substantially likely” the policy violates the First Amendment.

Key Facts

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court order that blocked SB 7072, which levies fines on any social media platform that bans or suspends political candidates and publications—a law passed in response to Republicans’ fears that the social networks discriminate against conservatives.

The appellate court ruled that social media companies like Facebook and Twitter are “private actors” whose actions are protected under the First Amendment, meaning that they can take whatever actions they see fit against users.

It did allow one aspect of the law to take effect, which requires social media companies to let users who have been deplatformed to access their own data for at least 60 days, ruling this aspect didn’t violate the First Amendment and isn’t overly burdensome.

Florida had argued the law didn’t violate the First Amendment because the tech companies are merely hosting users’ comments and shouldn’t be allowed to restrict their First Amendment-protected speech by banning them.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said on Twitter the state was “pleased the court recognized the state’s authority to rein in social media companies” and upheld “major portions” of the law, despite the vast majority of the law still remaining blocked.

Big Number

$250,000. That’s the daily fine social networks have to pay under the law if they “willfully deplatform” a candidate for statewide political office, along with a $25,000-per-day fine for other candidates.

Key Background

Florida first enacted its social media law in May 2021, in response to widespread criticism on the right arguing that big tech companies “silence” conservatives, after platforms like Facebook and Twitter banned President Donald Trump and other high-level Republican politicians. The law was widely expected to be subject to legal challenges, and a district court judge blocked the policy in July. Monday’s ruling comes after a different federal appeals court reinstated a similar law in Texas earlier in May. The 5th Circuit, which is known for being one of the most conservative-leaning appeals courts in the country, reversed a lower court ruling that halted Texas’ social media law without comment, allowing the law to once again take effect while the litigation moves forward.

What To Watch For

Tech groups have asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on Texas’ social media law and decide whether or not it should stay in effect as the lawsuit against it moves forward. The court hasn’t yet weighed in on the issue, and a ruling could come at any time. It’s also unclear how Republicans’ concerns about Twitter will evolve going forward, as billionaire Elon Musk has vowed to lift Trump’s Twitter ban if he takes control of the social network. (Trump, for his part, has said he would remain on his own social network, Truth Social, and not go back to Twitter.)

Tangent

The Florida law initially included a provision that exempted companies with theme parks from being subject to the policy’s restrictions, which lawmakers said was crafted to shield Disney—one of the state’s biggest employers—from having to comply with the law. Florida lawmakers have since turned on the company after Disney came out against the state’s HB 1557 law, known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, and got rid of that provision in April.

Further Reading

Florida Blocks Big Tech From Deplatforming Conservatives—But Legality In Question (Forbes)

Federal Judge Blocks Florida Social Media Law, Says It Likely Violated Free Speech (Forbes)

A ‘Radical’ Ruling Lets Texas Ban Social Media Moderation (Wired)

Here’s why tech giants want the Supreme Court to freeze Texas’ social media law (NPR)



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