Florida Wants Appellate Court To Reinstate Law Banning 'Deplatforming'

Florida officials will ask a federal appellate court to lift a block on a state law that imposes sweeping restrictions on social media companies' ability to moderate content.

The law, which was supposed to take effect July 1, was blocked late last month by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee. Hinkle, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, said in a written decision that the restrictions on social media companies violate the First Amendment.

This week, state officials filed paperwork to appeal Hinkle's decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The state hasn't yet made any substantive arguments to the appellate court.

The law (SB 7072) 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 defines deplatforming as banning a user for more than 14 days, or permanently deleting the users' account.)

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The bill also prohibits social media companies from “censoring,” “deplatforming” or “shadow banning” journalistic enterprises, based on content.

Companies that own large theme parks in the state -- including Comcast (which owns Universal Orlando) and Disney (owner of Walt Disney World) -- are exempt from the law's restrictions.

In late May, NetChoice and Computer & Communications Industry Association -- whose members include Amazon, Google, Facebook, TikTok and Twitter -- sued to block enforcement.

The groups said the measure unconstitutionally interferes with private companies' editorial decisions. The organizations also said Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- which protects websites from liability for content moderation decisions -- overrides the measure.

Additionally, the industry organizations argued that the law is underinclusive, due to its exception for theme parks.

Hinkle wrote that allowing Florida to enforce the restrictions on content moderation would subject social media companies to “irreparable injury.”

“If a preliminary injunction is not issued, the plaintiffs’ members will sometimes be compelled to speak and will sometimes be forbidden from speaking, all in violation of their editorial judgment and the First Amendment,” he wrote. “This is irreparable injury.”

Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, called for a crackdown on tech companies earlier this year, shortly after Facebook, YouTube and Twitter banned former President Trump following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

DeSantis said he wanted to combat “censorship” of conservatives by tech companies -- despite a lack of evidence that tech companies disproportionately suppress conservative views.

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