A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Wednesday against a Florida law that would fine social media companies $250,000 a day for banning political candidates, saying that the law likely violates tech companies’ first amendment rights.
Passed by Florida’s Republican-led legislature earlier this year, the law was inspired by Twitter and other platforms deciding to permanently or temporarily ban Donald Trump from posting last winter after he accidentally-on-purpose incited a riot at the Capitol in January 2021. Although the law stipulates that social media companies may not “permanently delete or ban” a candidate for office, it would allow exceptions for suspensions of up to 14 days, and also grants platforms the right to evaluate and remove individual posts if they are found to be in violation of the terms of service.
In addition to the $250,000 a day fines social media companies would face under the law for banning statewide political candidates, they would also be subject to $25,000 a day fines from the state’s elections commission for banning other candidates, and could open themselves up to lawsuits brought by individuals.
In blocking the law — which had been scheduled to go into effect on Thursday — U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said that he took issue with the sweeping nature of the legislation: “Like prior First Amendment restrictions, this is an instance of burning the house to roast a pig,” he said.
“The legislation now at issue was an effort to rein in social-media providers deemed too large and too liberal,” Hinkle wrote. “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.”
The law as written, he said, would force platforms “... to host speech that violates their standards — speech they otherwise would not host — and forbids providers from speaking as they otherwise would.”
Under the First Amendment, tech companies are generally granted the right to publish whatever they see fit to publish without government interference.