Florida’s Big Tech Ban Bill
The Sunshine State has had enough of Silicon Valley’s apparent meddling into politics, and is taking a stand by way of new legislation aimed right at the industry.
Governor Ron DeSantis is set to sign a law that will penalize social media conglomerates who (inadvertently or otherwise) censor and/or ban political candidates prior to public elections. Those companies that run afoul of the law will face Florida’s attorney general, who will have the power to revoke tax exemptions, refunds & other credits due or afforded to these big tech players doing business in the state. Violators will also be banned from contracting with public entities, under Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
The debate over the power large social media companies (like Facebook, Google, Instagram and Twitter) yield over speech -- both in the political realm and for individual users – has been front and center, particularly in the wake of the January 6th D.C. Capitol riots, which led to former president Donald Trump getting banned from almost every social media platform due to “risk of further incitement of violence.” However, many Americans believe that the true reason was politically motivated -- as Silicon Valley's ideology conflicts with that of the GOP.
In February, Governor DeSantis (an outspoken Republican and avid supporter of the former president) introduced this bill to combat “the Silicon Valley elites” that restrict speech that they deem inappropriate (or just do not agree with). "Many in our state have experienced censorship and other tyrannical behavior firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela," DeSantis noted. "If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable." (Rumors of DeSantis possibly taking a run for the presidency in 2024 are already circulating.)
The new law, if ratified, will apply to social media platforms who conduct business in the state of Florida with annual gross revenues exceeding $100 million, and who have at least 100 million monthly individual users worldwide. The Florida State Senate called for fines of $10,000 per day for banning a political candidate, and $100,000 if the candidate was running for election; but the House of Representatives upped the penalty to $25,000, and $250,000, respectively. (Individuals can also pursue lawsuits against violating companies if it is believed that the companies are being inconsistent on the content that is banned.)
Of course, the counterattack has already begun, with big tech vowing to challenge the bill’s constitutionality in court. The Internet Association -- which lobbies for tech giants Facebook, Amazon, and Google – claims the law will only allow more “bad actors” online, and that it arbitrarily exempts media companies who would otherwise fit the bill, but for the fact that they “own or operate a theme park or large entertainment complex.” Opponents of the new bill stress that this is an unfair carve out for Disney World and Universal Studios theme parks – a major source of tax revenue the state is unwilling to disturb. Republican state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia confirmed in a statement that the exemption was to ensure Disney Plus “isn’t caught up in this.”
Although the bill may seem retaliatory when viewed in the context of the past few months, other states have also placed similar restrictions on large media companies. Texas implemented a law preventing large tech conglomerates from “blocking or discriminating” against its users based on political viewpoint or location within the state. Louisiana and North Carolina senators have introduced comparable proposals which are currently pending, and talks in Washington have been initiated on how to corral big tech from exerting too much influence on free speech and trodding on First Amendment issues.
Given that these companies are led by business-people, and not Supreme Court justices, the power the former have to silence certain narratives with account restrictions is something that must be scrutinized and regulated -- as millions of additional users flock to these platforms, each and every day, for their daily dose of local, national, and international news (together with satisfying their yen for plenty of selfies and lots of gossip, of course).