Commentary

Florida Governor Takes Aim At Tech Companies

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has joined the roster of officials with questionable notions about the government's power to compel tech companies to give people a platform.

His idea? He wants to fine social media companies $100,000 per day for suspending state political candidates.

The Republican governor reportedly also seeks to authorize private lawsuits against tech companies by individuals who are banned, and wants to empower the attorney general to bring enforcement actions against social media platforms over their content-moderation policies.

“The message is loud and clear: When it comes to elections in Florida, Big Tech should stay out of it,” DeSantis reportedly said this week.

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His proposal comes several weeks after Facebook, YouTube and Twitter de-platformed former President Trump, following the January 6 riot at the Capitol.

DeSantis said last month that his primary goal for the year was tackling “censorship” of conservatives by tech companies.

“We need to really think deeply about if we are a disfavored class based on our principles, based on having conservative views, based on being a Christian, based on whatever you can say that is not favored in Silicon Valley,” DeSantis reportedly said at a conservative conference in Texas.

“I think it’s probably the most important legislative issue that we’re going to have to get right this year and next year,” he added.

Despite his tough talk, DeSantis has little power to force tech companies -- or any other publishers -- to host speech.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- which clearly protects tech companies' content-moderation decisions -- overrides inconsistent state laws.

But even without Section 230, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other tech companies have a First Amendment right to pick and choose what to allow on their platforms -- just as newspapers and book publishers can decide what material to print.

DeSantis isn't the only prominent conservative to claim that tech companies discriminate against conservatives. Trump has often leveled a similar accusation, as has Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), among others. In the last two years, Hawley and other politicians have proposed several questionable laws aimed at combatting this alleged discrimination. 

Despite right-wingers' claims of liberal bias, there has never been any evidence that social media platforms are particularly likely to suppress speech by conservatives.

“The claim of anti-conservative animus is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it,” researchers at the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights said in a report issued this week. “No trustworthy large-scale studies have determined that conservative content is being removed for ideological reasons or that searches are being manipulated to favor liberal interests.”

Other researchers have reached similar conclusions.

New York Law School professor Ari Waldman told lawmakers in 2018 that web companies don't appear to be suppressing speech based on political views.

"Lots of content gets filtered out, but no more so from the right than from the left," Waldman testified to Congress.

He added: "Activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have reported just as many if not more takedowns of images discussing racism and police brutality than any of the anecdotal evidence of suspensions or takedowns on the right."

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