Tech companies sue to block Florida ‘deplatforming’ law

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Two groups representing Big Tech have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s new “deplatforming” law.

The bill, passed by the GOP-dominated state Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 1, makes it a crime to remove state political candidates from Twitter and Facebook, and assigns penalties of $250,000 a day for any statewide candidate who is deplatformed.

Removing more local candidates would cost the company $25,000 a day.

The bill also requires tech companies to give users seven days’ notice that they are at risk of being banned and offer them the opportunity to correct the issue. Suspensions of up to 14 days would still be allowed.

DeSantis has said the law protects citizens from online censorship.

The suit, filed by NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, asked the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida to overturn the law, claiming that it “infringes on the rights to freedom of speech, equal protection, and due process protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” and that it exceeds the state’s authority to regulate interstate commerce. It also goes counter to the Communications Decency Act, the suit claims.

The groups argue that the law targets the tech giants they represent, and is a “blatant attack” on their efforts to moderate content from a long list of “harmful, offensive or unlawful material,” including pornography, terrorist incitement, false propaganda and conspiracy theories, personal privacy violations and even online scams.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holding up the signed "deplatforming" legislation in Miami on May 24, 2021.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holding up the signed “deplatforming” legislation in Miami on May 24, 2021.
Carl Juste/Miami Herald via AP

It noted that other companies, particularly ones with huge theme parks in Florida like Disney, don’t have to live by the “burdensome restrictions.”

“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 suit said.

Legal experts have also said the law is unconstitutional. “This is so obviously unconstitutional, you wouldn’t even put it on an exam,” A. Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami, told Wired magazine.

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