A new law in Florida that prohibits social media platforms from banning politicians marks a “frontal assault” on the First Amendment, the industry groups NetChoice and Computer & Communications Industry Association say in a lawsuit filed Thursday.
“Rather than preventing what it calls 'censorship,' the Act does the exact opposite: it empowers government officials in Florida to police the protected editorial judgment of online businesses that the State disfavors and whose perceived political viewpoints it wishes to punish,” the organizations allege in a complaint brought in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee.
The business groups are seeking an order blocking the law before July 1 -- the date it's scheduled to take effect. Members of the organizations include Amazon, Google, Facebook, TikTok and Twitter.
The law (SB 7072), signed Monday by Governor Ron DeSantis, subjects social media companies to fines of $250,000 per day for “deplatforming” candidates for statewide office, and $25,000 per day for other offices. (The bill allows for temporary suspensions of up to 14 days.)
Another provision prohibits social media companies from “censoring,” “deplatforming” or “shadow banning” journalistic enterprises based on content.
The bill exempts companies that own theme parks in the state, provided they're at least 25 acres and draw at least 1 million visitors per year. Comcast (which owns theme parks including Universal Orlando) and Disney (owner of Walt Disney World) would both meet that definition.
NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association call the law a frontal assault on the First Amendment, adding that the measure is “so rife with fundamental infirmities that it appears to have been enacted without any regard for the Constitution.”
“Could Florida require that the Miami Herald publish, or move to the front page, an op-ed or letter to the editor that the State favored, or demand that the Herald publish guest editorials in a state-sanctioned sequence? The answer is obviously no,” the complaint states.
The groups add that the law “imposes a slew of hopelessly vague content-based, speaker-based, and viewpoint-based restrictions on the editorial judgments and affirmative speech of the selected online businesses that it targets.”
The organizations add that the measure should also be declared invalid due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online companies' ability to engage in content moderation.
Numerous critics, including the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation and Silicon Valley lobbying organization Internet Association, have said Florida's law is likely unconstitutional.
“This law ... is mostly performative, as it almost certainly will be found unconstitutional,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said earlier this month.
The organization noted that in 1974, the Supreme Court struck down a Florida law that attempted to require news organizations to publish politicians' speech.
The current bill's exemption for theme parks makes the measure even less likely to survive a constitutional challenge, according to the digital rights group. That's because an exemption for Comcast and Disney means the bill is even less likely to solve whatever problem it was designed to remedy.