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Florida's Social Media Bill Was Supposed To Protect 'Free Speech.' A Judge Says It Violates the First Amendment.

  First Amendment protects right of social media companies to boot politicians.   Florida's controversial and authoritarian   new social...

 First Amendment protects right of social media companies to boot politicians. Florida's controversial and authoritarian new social media law has been temporarily blocked by a federal court. The measure—championed and signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in May—bans large social media providers from deplatforming political candidates, beginning July 1.

It also prohibits social media providers from suppressing or prioritizing any information "posted by or about a user" who is a candidate for political office, and from suppressing or adding addendums to posts by a "journalistic enterprise" based on the outlet's content. Those that violate this directive would face fines of up to $250,000 per day (though some of Florida's favored companies, like Disney, are exempted from the law).

On Wednesday, Judge Robert L. Hinkle of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida ruled that the law violated the First Amendment.

Florida's assertion that it is on the side of the First Amendment "is perhaps a nice sound bite," wrote Hinkle. "But the assertion is wholly at odds with accepted constitutional principles." 

"The legislation compels providers to host speech that violates their standards—speech they otherwise would not host—and forbids providers from speaking as they otherwise would," noted Hinkle in his decision. Moreover, "the Governor's signing statement and numerous remarks of legislators show rather clearly that the legislation is viewpoint-based."

The social media measure also runs up against provisions of the federal communications law Section 230, which—as Hinkle points out—"expressly prohibits imposition of liability on an interactive computer service—this includes a social-media provider—for action taken in good faith to restrict access to material the service finds objectionable." 

The judge granted a preliminary injunction against the law, as requested by tech industry associations NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, and ordered the state to "take no steps to enforce" the portions of the law that violate the First Amendment or are preempted by Section 230.

"The legislation now at issue was an effort to rein in social-media providers deemed too large and too liberal," concluded Hinkle. But "balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest."

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