Today, Trump lackey and Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed into law “Florida’s Big Tech Bill,” a thinly veiled attempt to appease Trump’s Twitter and Facebook gripe. And also money in the bank for Big Tech warrior, Ron DeSantis.
The bill dangles a shred of hope in front of Trump, with a provision that he (or others) could sue social media companies for up to $100,000, and it guarantees that political candidates get an automatic space on social media platforms if they so desire. This is about as ham-fisted as any of Trump’s own attempts to sneak back on Twitter through surrogates, which makes it a pointless waste of Florida taxpayer resources—also perhaps a gift to the wider world since it could drain a little of Trump’s attention from fomenting his followers’ rage while he mucks around in an unproductive battle.
DeSantis is selling this as a campaign to protect “real Floridians across the Sunshine State” from “Silicon Valley elites,” but the nonsense text is effectively politicians doing themselves a favor. Florida now believes that all social media companies have to let all political candidates on their platforms, no matter whether they violate the rules. Florida also thinks it can now fine social media companies, on no basis, $250,000 per day for deplatforming a candidate for statewide office and $25,000 for deplatforming candidates for “other offices.” If the platforms are found to have violated Florida’s new rule, the banned or deplatformed person may sue for damages of up to $100,000 as well as actual damages and punitive damages. Trump’s lawsuit is probably TBA on his blog.
The bill also makes up a big new rule that would protect media outlets that promote conservatives and misinformation, forcing social media platforms to host them and forbidding them from “prioritizing” certain outlets over others.
It doesn’t do nearly as much to protect civilians from “censorship,” unless they register as political candidates, which racists have proven themselves perfectly capable of doing. Mostly, though, it just makes it a pain in the ass for a company to deplatform non-politicians. It orders social media platforms to give rule-breakers a warning, show them the other users who saw their post, and allow users to “opt-out” of the “shadow banning algorithm.” They would also have to enforce the moderation rules “in a consistent manner”—despite the fact that Facebook and Twitter specifically made an exception for Donald Trump’s abuse for four years.
The act clearly flouts Section 230, the fundamental rule governing social media platforms, long despised by Republicans. Under section 2 (a), platforms are protected from being sued for good faith moderation of content that it considers “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.” Section 2 (b) allows them to take any action to restrict access to that content, which would include booting a habitual offender off the platform.
Section 230 makes no exceptions for politicians or celebrities or Donald Trump. Besides Section 230, it still doesn’t explain why someone can run into a business that has a blanket “no screaming violent threats at customers” policy and still expect to be served.
Florida’s law is based largely on the argument that social media companies are the “new public town square,” a phrase specific to First Amendment protections. So Florida seems to be hedging its bet on the hope that the Supreme Court will eventually decide that social media companies aren’t primarily businesses, possibly triggering a legal review of Section 230. No matter the outcome, it’s a win-win for Ron DeSantis.
There’s also a provision that Florida can blacklist companies from securing government contracts if they’re found to violate antitrust laws—or even if an Attorney General believes it has “likely” violated antitrust law. Florida’s Republican Party chairman introduced an equally wonky (now dead) bill in January, which would have specifically prevented Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google, and Apple from doing business with any Florida government entity because of perceived conservative censorship.
Makes about as much sense as encouraging people to go maskless and pack restaurants during a pandemic in a state full of senior citizens. Or trying to dismantle social media because Twitter fact-checked your lies.