Florida politicians take aim at social media companies

Governor Ron DeSantis proposing legislation to regulate big tech companies

In the middle of a global pandemic when many Floridians are concerned about if and when they’ll be able to get a Coronavirus vaccine, Gov. Ron DeSantis and other politicians announce they want to take on social media companies like Facebook and Twitter.

“Over the years these platforms have changed from neutral platforms that provide Americans with the freedom to speak, to enforcers of preferred narrative,” DeSantis said at a press conference last week.

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After former President Donald Trump’s supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol, Facebook and Twitter suspended Trump’s accounts and banned him.

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson said it is evident social media platforms are censoring conservatives.

“Big tech companies have a duty to allow differing views on their public platforms,” Wilton said. “No one should be excluded, but let’s be clear they are targeting conservatives.”

DeSantis is proposing legislation that would, in part, fine social media companies $100k per day if they de-platform a political candidate during an election.

“The message is loud and clear when it comes to elections in Florida, big tech should stay out of it,” DeSantis said.

News 6 legal analyst Steven Kramer says it is a complicated proposal.

“States do have an ability to regulate all companies that do business within states,” Kramer said. “But it’s limited when you’re talking about internet companies because we have this rule, the section 230.”

“Section 230” is part of the 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act, which in some cases provides websites, including social media companies, immunity.

Kramer says it’s unclear how much states can regulate such global companies when there is already federal law.

“Federal law preempts and supersedes state law,” Kramer said. “So it’s going to be about can Florida fit between the lines? Can Florida find a space between the federal laws to regulate or not.”

While Simpson applauded the governor’s efforts, he suggested the federal government would have a better shot at regulating tech companies.

“There’s not much we can do as a state,” Simpson said. “We need Congress to act on a nationwide basis to put this into play for our entire country.”

While many republicans claim social media companies censor the political right, a study released last week by researchers at New York University suggests otherwise.

“The claim of anti-conservative animus on the part of social media companies is itself a form of disinformation: A falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it,” researchers wrote in the report.

If Florida eventually passes legislation trying to regulate big tech companies, the state should be prepared for legal challenges, Kramer said.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.