TALLAHASSEE—Ron DeSantis signed legislation Monday that allows Florida to impose fines on social media platforms that ban users – like many did to former President Trump, the Republican governor’s political mentor.
The bill (SB 7072) swept through the GOP-controlled Legislature last month on votes that broke almost strictly along party lines. DeSantis again came to Trump’s defense after signing the measure Monday in Miami.
“When you de-platform the president of the United States but you let Ayatollah Khamenei (Iran’s supreme leader) talk about killing Jews, that is wrong,” DeSantis said, revisiting an issue last year involving Twitter that had brought condemnation from the Trump White House.
The bill orders social media companies to publish standards with detailed definitions of when someone would be censored or blocked and makes Twitter, Facebook and other online companies subject to as much as $250,000 daily fines for de-platforming a Florida candidate.
Governing social media rules:Why Section 230 could get repealed in 2021
The bill also requires a site to notify users within seven days that they could be censored, giving them time to correct a posting.
“In recent years, we’re seeing a shift away from internet platforms, social media platforms from really being liberating forces to now being enforcers of orthodoxy,” DeSantis said. “Their primary mission, or one of their major missions, seems to be suppressing ideas that are either inconvenient to the narrative or that which they personally disagree with.”
Trump was banned from social media platforms after the Jan. 6 deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol after Facebook determined he had “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.” Facebook’s Oversight Board, which oversees the private company’s content decisions, earlier this month upheld the ban, saying an ongoing risk “justified” the decision.
DeSantis, whose 2018 bid for governor was helped by Twitter endorsements from the president at the time, called for the Florida legislation by condemning the “oligarchs in Silicon Valley” who removed Trump.
The former president has been among many users removed for posting misinformation and theories involving election fraud, Covid-19 and a host of other issues.
DeSantis contends the privately owned online giants are using their size, advertising power and global reach to influence thought and play favorites – being tougher on those who comment from the political right than left.
Censorship or conspiracy theory? Trump supporters say Facebook and Twitter censor them but conservatives still rule social media
The governor also blasted YouTube and its parent Google after the company took down a March recording of a roundtable he hosted with researchers accused of airing Covid-19 falsehoods. The recording has been re-posted.
The new Florida law, which takes effect July 1, may gain national attention, since it breaks with the practice of governments, along with state and federal courts, generally taking a hands-off view when it comes to regulating online platforms.
Congress also has not weighed into the debate, although the action involving Trump has revived discussions.
The Florida measure also raises a number of constitutional issues, with opponents saying it violates both interstate commerce and free speech protections. It’s expected to face a court challenge.
“It’s a brazen assault on the First Amendment. DeSantis wants to compel websites to speak. He can’t,” said Corbin Barthold, internet policy counsel for TechFreedom, a non-profit think tank researching law and technology.
He added, “DeSantis is attacking the very constitutional principles Republicans just spent four years putting conservatives on the courts to protect.”
John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport