Appeals Court Judge Blocks Parts of DeSantis’s Big Tech Censorship Law

Appeals Court Judge Blocks Parts of DeSantis’s Big Tech Censorship Law
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks before signing into law Senate Bill 7072 at Florida International University in Miami on May 24, 2021. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

PUNTA GORDA, Fla.–A Federal Court of Appeals ruled on May 23 that it is unconstitutional for Florida to prohibit social media companies from banning politicians, handing Gov. Ron DeSantis a blow to combat online censorship.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 67-page opinion upheld an injunction blocking key parts of Florida’s social media law and said that meddling with the platforms’ content moderation policies ran afoul of the First Amendment.

“We conclude that social-media platforms’ content-moderation activities—permitting, removing, prioritizing, and deprioritizing users and posts—constitute ‘speech’ within the meaning of the First Amendment,” the court wrote.

NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association—two social media trade associations—challenged the law that was signed last year.

“Put simply, with minor exceptions, the government can’t tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it,” the court wrote.

DeSantis had disputed the fact that social media companies were biased towards conservatives and were silencing their political speech after former president Donald Trump was banned from Twitter and other social media platforms, which sparked outrage from Republicans as well as DeSantis.

The court wrote that content-moderation decisions are protected exercises of editorial judgment.

Last May, the governor signed a bill prohibiting social media companies from “de-platforming” political candidates prioritizing or deprioritizing messages pertaining to candidates and removing anything posted by a “journalistic enterprise” based on its content and could have cost social media companies $250,000-a-day fines for banning a candidate.

With the court blocking major provisions, it allowed some of the regulations to stay such as a requirement that users be able to access their data for up to 60 days after they are banned, and companies must disclose the standards they use to moderate the content.

In contrast, in early May the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Texas to enforce a law similar to Florida’s law targeting Big Tech. Trade groups that represented social media companies have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to block the law.

De Santis’ office told The Epoch Times in a statement, “Although the 11th Circuit approved some provisions of the law, we are nevertheless disappointed that the court continues to permit censorship.

“The court’s central holding that social media platforms are similar to newspapers and parades, rather than common carriers that transmit others’ messages, is stupefying. Floridians know differently.

“Our office is currently reviewing the options for appeal. We will continue to fight big tech censorship and protect the First Amendment rights of Floridians.”