Florida Judge Partly Blocks Law That Targeted Social Media Censorship

By Ivan Pentchoukov
Ivan Pentchoukov
Ivan Pentchoukov
Ivan has reported for The Epoch Times on a variety of topics since 2011.
July 1, 2021 Updated: July 1, 2021

A federal judge in Florida has partially blocked a social media law that would have imposed penalties on big social media companies for deplatforming candidates for public office.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle granted a preliminary injunction on June 30 sought by the plaintiffs in the case, NetChoice LLC and the Computer & Communications Industry Association.

“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,” the judge wrote in a 31-page opinion (pdf).

“The Governor’s signing statement and numerous remarks of legislators show rather clearly that the legislation is viewpoint-based. And parts contravene a federal statute. This order preliminarily enjoins enforcement of the parts of the legislation that are preempted or violate the First Amendment.”

The judge blocked two of the three Florida statutes created through the enactment of the social media law, also known as Florida Senate Bill 7072 (pdf). One of the statutes imposed fines on social media companies for deplatforming candidates for public office. The other statute imposed a number of restrictions on censorship by social media giants, which are private companies.

The plaintiffs are trade associations that represent some of the social media companies impacted by the legislation, which was set to go into effect on July 1. The plaintiffs filed suit against several Florida officials in their official capacity on May 27. The lawsuit alleged that the social media law violated the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and that it’s preempted by the protections internet companies have under Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act.

The judge concurred with the plaintiffs’ arguments.

“The legislation now at issue was an effort to rein in social-media providers deemed too large and too liberal. Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest,” Hinkle wrote. “It is also subject to strict scrutiny because it discriminates on its face among otherwise-identical speakers: between social-media providers that do or do not meet the legislation’s size requirements and are or are not under common ownership with a theme park. The legislation does not survive strict scrutiny. Parts also are expressly preempted by federal law.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, supported the social media law. Among other provisions, the law would enable Floridians to sue big tech companies over censorship issues. It also empowered the Florida Election Commission to impose fines of $250,000 per day on any social media company that deplatforms any candidates for statewide office. The fine was set at $25,000 per day when deplatforming candidates for other offices.

DeSantis’s office told The Epoch Times that it plans to immediately appeal the ruling.

“We are disappointed by Judge Hinkle’s ruling and disagree with his determination that the U.S. Constitution protects Big Tech’s censorship of certain individuals and content over others,” DeSantis’s office wrote in an emailed statement.

“As Judge Hinkle seemed to indicate during this week’s hearing on preliminary injunction, this case was always bound for the Eleventh Circuit and the appeals court will ultimately make its own decision on legal conclusions. Governor DeSantis continues to fight for freedom of speech and against Big Tech’s discriminatory censorship.”

Ivan Pentchoukov
Ivan Pentchoukov
Ivan has reported for The Epoch Times on a variety of topics since 2011.