A three judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a 2021 Florida law regulating social media platforms “likely” violates tech companies’ First Amendment rights.
SB 7072, signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, allows the state to fine social media companies up to $250,000 a day if they ban candidates for elected office from using their platforms and allows banned candidates to seek up to $100,000 in damages. It also prohibits platforms from using algorithms to promote or suppress content. A District Court judge ruled in June 2021 that the legislation does not address a legitimate government interest and enjoined Florida from enforcing it. (RELATED: ‘Strongest Thing That Any State Has Done’: Ron DeSantis Touts Florida’s Anti-Big Tech Bill)
The Eleventh Circuit panel upheld District Court Judge Robert Hinkle’s injunction against several provisions in the law, finding that “social-media companies — even the biggest ones — are ‘private actors’ whose rights the First Amendment protects.”
“Their so-called ‘content-moderation’ decisions constitute protected exercises of editorial judgment, and that the provisions of the new Florida law that restrict large platforms’ ability to engage in content moderation unconstitutionally burden that prerogative,” Trump-appointed Judge Kevin Newsom wrote for the unanimous panel.
The court also overturned portions of Hinkle’s injunction that prohibited Florida from enforcing parts of the bill requiring companies to disclose candidate advertising and rule changes. Newsom wrote that Florida’s interest in making sure users “are fully informed about the terms of that transaction and aren’t misled about platforms’ content moderation policies” is “likely legitimate.”
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody praised the latter portion of the ruling.
“We are pleased the court recognized the state’s authority to rein in social media companies and upheld major portions of Florida’s law leading the way in doing so. We will continue to vigorously defend Florida’s authority to demand accountability from Big Tech,” she tweeted.
We are pleased the court recognized the state’s authority to rein in social media companies and upheld major portions of Florida’s law leading the way in doing so. We will continue to vigorously defend Florida’s authority to demand accountability from Big Tech.
— AG Ashley Moody (@AGAshleyMoody) May 23, 2022
DeSantis has frequently inveighed against Big Tech companies, referring to them as monopolies on several occasions. He claimed in May 2021 that technology firms “are more powerful than the monopolies of the early 20th century” because they use “their power to enforce orthodoxy and suppress speech and candidates that they disagree with.”
He ordered an investigation into Facebook in September 2021, claiming that the company may have interfered in the 2020 election. That investigation is ongoing.