A Florida internet law is pending as a lawsuit challenging it continues. Judge Robert Hinkle has issued a preliminary injunction blocking almost all of SB 7072, a controversial and sweeping regulation of social media platforms.
“The legislation currently at issue was an effort to curb social media providers deemed too big and too liberal. Balancing the exchange of ideas between private speakers is not a legitimate government interest, ”Hinkle wrote in his order. In addition, the law “prima facie discriminates against otherwise identical speakers”, in part through a eyebrow exemption for businesses that operate a theme park. This raises the bar for assessing whether the law violates the First Amendment – and according to Hinkle’s estimate, it probably is.
SB 7072, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in May, limits when web services can launch users. It includes a ban on suspending or annotating political candidate posts, a requirement that users can “opt out” of algorithmic sorting systems and a “blacklist of antitrust violators” for companies that break the rules. . As mentioned above, the rules don’t apply to “a business that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex,” appeasing media conglomerates like Disney.
The industrial groups NetChoice and the CCIA sued to stop law enforcement, claiming it would force social media platforms to host offensive speech that violates their editorial policies. Judge Hinkle heard arguments from the two groups and the DeSantis administration on Monday, when it appeared dubious of the law, calling the particular theme park exemption a “major constitutional issue.”
The injunction is equally skeptical, summarizing the law as follows:
“The state of Florida has passed legislation that places strict requirements on some social media providers, but not all. The legislation only applies to large vendors, not the same but smaller vendors, and explicitly exempts vendors from common ownership with any major Florida theme park. The law requires vendors to host speech that violates their standards – speech they would not welcome otherwise – and prohibits vendors from speaking as they otherwise would. The Governor’s signature statement and the many remarks from lawmakers make it quite clear that legislation is point of view based. And some parties are breaking federal law.
The federal law Hinkle referred to is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a rule that gives websites and apps great latitude in deciding what material they host. Beyond that, Hinkle says social media routinely use editorial judgment to prioritize, remove, tag, and sort content presented to users – and much of that editorial judgment is likely protected by the First Amendment. “The state said it was on the First Amendment side; the complainants are not. It might be a good sound sample. But the claim is totally at odds with accepted constitutional principles, ”writes Hinkle.
Federal lawmakers, like state legislators, have an appetite for regulating social media. Including a bundle of invoices aimed at reducing the potential monopoly power of companies like Facebook and Google, as well as several proposals for modify article 230. In April, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas also made a deal to regulate social networks. But Florida law was one of the first, most drastic rules governing how businesses can moderate web platforms – and it’s no surprise that it was cut short.