Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has been hit, albeit indirectly, with a new lawsuit over a bill that he recently signed restricting the ability of social media companies to remove users like political candidates from their platforms. DeSantis signed the bill into law as conservative outrage continues to simmer over decisions by Twitter and Facebook to remove former President Donald Trump from their sites after he incited the deadly violence at the Capitol in January. Stunningly, the legislation “allows the Florida Elections Commission to fine social media companies up to $250,000 for banning political candidates,” POLITICO explains.
The new lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Tallahassee, was brought by technology groups including NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association. It names Florida state Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) and a selection of other state officials — although not DeSantis — as defendants. Carl Szabo, who serves as vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, commented as follows:
‘Americans everywhere should oppose Florida’s attempt to run roughshod over the First Amendment rights of private online businesses. By weakening the First Amendment rights of some, Florida weakens the First Amendment rights of all.’
The lawsuit itself adds as follows:
‘The Act is a frontal assault on the First Amendment and an extraordinary intervention by government in the free marketplace of ideas that would be unthinkable for traditional media, book sellers, lending libraries or newsstands.’
Besides the allowance for hefty fines against social media companies that ban political candidates, the new legislation also requires social media companies to publicly share what POLITICO summarized as “concrete criteria they use to deplatform users.” The idea, of course, would be to combat supposedly arbitrary removals of certain users from the platforms, although — contrary to claims from top Republicans including Trump himself — there is no conspiracy led by “Big Tech” against conservatives. Characterizing conservatives and even Trump himself as silenced is ridiculous. They have Fox News (among other outlets), which is broadcast into millions of homes every week.
The DeSantis administration is also facing legal trouble over new election restrictions that the governor recently signed into law. Those restrictions — which Florida Republicans pushed despite the fact that no systematic security problems were discovered with the state’s previous system — include, among other provisions, a requirement for most absentee ballot drop boxes (excluding those at supervisors of elections offices) to only be available during hours that early in-person voting is open. A coalition including the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Black Voters Matters Fund, and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans has sued over the new hurdles.