Appeals Court Rejects Most of Florida’s ‘Stop Social Media Censorship’ Law, Signed by Governor DeSantis a Year Ago

Toby Hazlewood

It was ruled to be a violation of free speech

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Governor Ron DesantisShutterstock

One year ago, on May 24 2021, Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 7072 into law. It meant the 'Stop Social Media Censorship' law came into effect, essentially stopping social media platforms from censoring and banning certain people, which it was argued would constrain public debate and constrain freedoms of speech.

One year on and a U.S. Appeals Court has overturned most of the provisions of the bill, claiming that the law itself violates freedom of speech!

No fines for platforms banning political candidates

Under the law, it had been proposed that social media platforms would be prohibited from suspending or banning political candidates with possible fines of $250,000 per day if the de-platformed candidate was seeking statewide office and $25,000 per day if the candidate was running for a non-statewide office.

It was likely inspired in part by the banning of DeSantis' fellow Republicans including former President Donald Trump from social media in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection. In his announcement, the governor had also called out the occasionally one-sided misinformation that was spread during the pandemic as another reason for balanced public debate on social media featuring the opinions of those on both sides of the political aisle.

Was it ever legal?

From the very outset there was debate over whether the bill was even legal. Wired magazine expressed their opinion in no uncertain terms, pointing out that the bill "almost certainly violates both the US Constitution and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act." 

Aside from the validity of the bill in constitutional terms, CNN also pointed out that if passed into law without challenge the bill could prevent social media platforms from properly moderating the actions of trolls, extremists and even disgruntled internet users who theoretically could take legal action against the platforms if censored.

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Woman with tape over her mouthPhoto by Brian Wangenheim on Unsplash

The courts decided

In their ruling, the Appeals Court determined that the parts of the Florida law concerning political speech violated social media companies’ First Amendment right to decide what to publish. It did however agree that there should be no reason to prevent social media corporations from disclosing their standards and criteria for implementing ban, which some may see as a victory for Florida.

It seems likely as mid-term elections begin, social media could play an influential role. Whether Governor DeSantis attempts to reinstate a similar law or not, remains to be seen.

Do you think social media platforms should allow anyone to say anything, or do you believe they are within their rights to control what their platforms are used for? Let me know in the comments section below.

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