TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Florida Senate voted on Monday to approve a bill that would essentially allow the state government to crack down on social media companies that ban users from their services, a topic that Governor Ron DeSantis has referred to as one of his top legislative priorities. The bill passed along party lines in the Republican-controlled Senate 22-17, and will now head to the House.
DeSantis is said to have placed great emphasis on passing this piece of legislation against what he called the “oligarchs in Silicon Valley” following the recent bans of several prominent Republicans on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, including former President Donald Trump following the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.
The bill, known as SB 7072, would prohibit social media platforms from banning political candidates; if social media companies are found to be in violation of any aspect of this law, they could face fines as much as $100,000 per day for statewide candidates and $10,000 per day for local candidates.
In addition, the law would require social media companies to establish and publish rules about their general banning guidelines, and compel them to enforce those rules consistently across the board in all circumstances.
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The sponsor of the bill, Ray Rodrigues, (R-Estero), claimed that “big tech” companies such as Facebook and Twitter are essentially monopolies, and as such they should be regulated by state.
“When the battle is between a monopoly on one side and hard-working Americans on the other, the right side of history has always been on the side of the people,” he said. “It has never been on the side of the monopolies, not in this country.”
Republican support for the bill in the Senate was not universal; Jeff Brandes, (R-St. Petersburg) declared the bill “unconstitutional” and against the base principles of the Republican Party.
“This Senate is currently filled with small government Republicans who do believe that government shouldn’t be in the lives of businesses,” Brandes said last week. “This is the exact opposite of the things that we stand for.”
Senate Democrats were against the bill as well, arguing that businesses are typically allowed to set their own guidelines for determining who they do and don’t serve.
In addition, many experts – including Brandon Rottinghaus, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston – have questioned the legality of laws of this type and expect them to be successfully challenged in court, since the First Amendment only prohibits government censorship; private companies are not beholden to the First Amendment and are free to establish their own protocols regarding speech.
“These companies don’t have the same standard that the government does, in terms of protecting the first amendment,” Rottinghaus said regarding a similar bill passed in Texas earlier in April. “So it’s not clear that the courts would see this as something that would really stick to these companies, so it’s not clear whether it would pass, legal muster or not.”