Judge Smacks Down DeSantis, Florida Law To Control Social Media Outlets
A federal judge on Wednesday said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his fellow Republicans cannot tell Facebook and other social media platforms who they can and cannot suspend for violating their terms of service. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of the North District of Florida issued a preliminary injunction against a law, which was due to go into effect today, that would have penalized companies for taking action to enforce their user rules.
The Republican-controlled Florida legislature passed the measure and DeSantis put his signature to it late last month. It would have fined tech companies that suspended political candidates from their sites in the run-up to an election. NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which represent companies including Facebook, Google and Amazon, swiftly brought a lawsuit challenging it.
The ruling is a pointed rebuke to efforts by conservatives to retaliate against social media sites that suspended former president Donald Trump and others who incited violence and spread false information about the coronavirus and vaccines.
Judge Hinkle on Wednesday said the law would be found to be unconstitutional. “The plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits of their claim that these statutes violate the First Amendment,” Hinkle wrote in a blistering criticism, saying that it “compels providers to host speech that violates their standards. Like prior First Amendment restrictions, this is an instance of burning the house to roast a pig.”
He also said that remarks from the governor and other lawmakers made clear that the law was “viewpoint-based,” adding that there was “substantial factual support” showing the law was motivated by hostility toward the perceived liberal bias of large tech firms.
The judge also referred to the law as “riddled with imprecision and ambiguity” and said it “does not survive strict scrutiny.”
The decision on the Florida law comes as states across the country have been considering their own similar bills, while Democrats remain in control of efforts to regulate the tech industry in Washington.
CCIA President Matt Schruers praised the ruling, saying in a statement, “This decision upholding the Constitution and federal law is encouraging, and reaffirms what we have been saying: Florida’s statute is an extraordinary overreach, designed to penalize private businesses for their perceived lack of deference to the Government’s political ideology. The court’s ruling is a win for Internet users and the First Amendment.”
The very pro-Trump DeSantis said he will appeal.