Is FL right to pass Big Tech Bill?
- Ron DeSantis is Florida’s 46th governor. Before his election in 2018, he served in the US House of the 6th Congressional District in Florida.
- On Monday, May 24, 2021, Governor DeSantis approved a bill looking to “punish” social media platforms for removing conservative voices from their websites. The law will allow the state to fine $250,000 per day for removal of a political candidate account, and $25,000 a day for a member of local office.
- Some, like Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, call the law “unconstitutional” as a violation of the First Amendment.
- Mark Zuckerberg made the initial decision on January 6, 2021 to ban Republican former President Trump from Facebook along with removing several posts citing fear they would “provoke further violence.” Twitter permanently banned Trump on January 8, 2021 “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
- According to Pew Research Center, almost half of Americans think Big Tech should be closely monitored by the government while 11% believe there should be fewer regulations as of 2020.
Florida is right to pass the Big Tech Bill because private companies should not be able to infringe on free speech—it's a first amendment right. Big Tech firms cannot deny they engage in censorship but often claim to do so to avoid spreading 'misinformation' or encouraging divisive conversations. Still, it's a slippery slope when social media companies place themselves in the role of both fact-checker and thought police. Americans do not have a constitutional right against being offended. One of the benefits of free speech is the possibility of being exposed to dissenting views (including conservative ones).
Big Tech companies have tried to hide behind their own vague and arbitrary 'standards' to limit free speech. However, this is a misleading argument since they are already shielded from liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which specifies that individuals are solely responsible for their views expressed online (not the social media companies who provide the platform). It's disturbing that companies with such far-reaching influence over information distribution are in a position to censor views that run counter to their editorial biases. This is an especially important consideration during election cycles where candidates rely on social media to spread their message. Big Tech should not be allowed to pick winners and losers based on their own political prejudices.
The new Florida law will hold Big Tech accountable by shining a light on their shady speech-limiting practices and allowing for lawsuits to defend the free speech rights of those who've been censored. Big Tech companies should take notice that their days of censoring content and tilting political races may be coming to an end.
Florida's Big Tech Bill is being sold to the people by DeSantis and other supporters as something that will help 'everyday Floridians,' but the bill appears only to protect politicians from bans. The bill also contains an exception for any company 'that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex,' which brings up questions of corruption, considering that the Disney World theme park is in Florida. These things together imply that the law is not intended to help regular citizens, but is instead about protecting the powerful. It is worth noting that DeSantis himself has had issues with social media content moderation, having had a 'panel discussion with health experts' removed from YouTube for 'COVID-19 medical misinformation.'
There are also questions about the legality of the bill in the first place. Carl Szabo, general counsel for lobbying firm NetChoice, pointed out that 'The First Amendment prohibits the government from compelling or controlling speech on private websites.' Szabo's next statement may have undermined his point a bit, as he expressed concern that a law such as this could force social media companies to 'allow lawful but awful user posts.' Although this suggests that his concern lies with maintaining the control over speech that social media companies currently enjoy, not with protecting free speech, that doesn't change the fact that this is itself a free speech issue. Regardless of one's opinion on the power these companies hold over online speech, giving special protections to politicians via government intervention is not how we should address the issue.