Florida’s new law prohibiting social media platforms from suspending politicians is just days old. But it’s already being challenged in court by the tech industry.
On Thursday, a pair of technology trade groups filed a legal challenge to SB 7072, the hot-button legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis this week that promises stiff fines against tech companies that “de-platform” political candidates in the state by banning or suspending them. The legislation also gives private Florida residents the ability to sue tech companies who violate the law.
Calling the legislation a “blatant attack” on the First Amendment rights of private businesses, the trade groups urged a federal court to declare SB 7072 unconstitutional and unenforceable.
The lawsuit filed by NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association — both of which count Facebook, Google and Twitter as members — alleges that the legislation unlawfully forces tech companies to host content they might otherwise prohibit under their platform policies.
“No one, not even someone who has paid a filing fee to run for office, has a First Amendment right to compel a private actor to carry speech on their private property,” reads the complaint, which was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, said in a statement that the government has a role to play in protecting consumers against alleged discrimination and unfair or deceptive business practices.
“This law is within that authority to rein in a powerful entity that oversteps individuals’ free speech rights,” Pushaw said. “We have no comment on any specific lawsuit, but we anticipated legal challenges. We are confident that this new legislation has a strong legal basis and protects Floridians’ constitutional rights.”
CCIA president Matt Schruers said in a statement that by tying the hands of social media platforms to moderate their platforms, the law “threatens to make the Internet a safe space for criminals, miscreants, and foreign agents, putting Floridians at risk.”
Thursday’s complaint goes on to cite remarks by DeSantis and state lawmakers that allegedly show the intent of the law was to “punish” social media platforms “specifically because the Legislature and Governor dislike the perceived political and ideological viewpoints that those private businesses supposedly express through their content judgments.”
DeSantis’ press release on the bill signing refers to a “dominant Silicon Valley ideology” and includes a statement by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez blasting “big tech oligarchs,” whom she accuses of advancing a “radical leftist narrative.”
Republican officials have frequently accused tech platforms of censoring conservative viewpoints; top executives at major social media companies have all vocally denied discriminating against right-wing political speech.
Thursday’s lawsuit also takes aim at provisions in SB 7072 exempting the websites of theme park operators, an important Florida industry. And it objects to the law’s creation of an antitrust blacklist that automatically denies economic incentives and public contracts to companies that have been held liable under any federal or state antitrust law in the past three years. Companies may only be removed from the list following a decision by an administrative law judge. (Tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have spent the last several years fending off allegations of anticompetitive conduct and some, like Facebook and Google, are battling multiple antitrust lawsuits by state and federal officials.)
“The law is crony capitalism masquerading as consumer protection,” said NetChoice VP Carl Szabo in a statement, adding that SB 7072 allows the state government to “pick winners and losers while clearly favoring a handful of powerful businesses like Disney and Comcast.”