Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a law allowing legal action and fines against major tech companies that engage in censorship against residents and political candidates in the state. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
May 24 (UPI) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a law establishing penalties for "censorship" by major technology companies and social media platforms.
The law grants Florida residents and the state's attorney general the right to bring legal action against technology companies and would impose fines for companies that remove Florida political candidates from their platforms.
Critics, however, called the law unconstitutional and said it would hinder tech companies' efforts to combat hate speech and disinformation.
"Today, Floridians are being guaranteed protection against the Silicon Valley power grab on speech, thought and content," DeSantis said in a tweet. "We the people are standing up to tech totalitarianism with the signing of Florida's Big Tech Bill."
Under the law, "all Floridians treated unfairly by Big Tech platforms" have the right to sue companies and win monetary damages up to $100,000.
Additionally, Florida's attorney general will be permitted to bring action to restrict tech companies that violate the law from contracting with any public entity under Florida's Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Lastly, the state will impose fines of $250,000 per day on social media companies that remove candidates for statewide office from their platforms and $25,000 per day for those running for non-statewide offices.
"Any Floridian can block any candidate they don't want to hear from, and that is a right that belongs to each citizen -- it's not for Big Tech companies to decide," a statement from DeSantis' office said.
The Texas Senate approved a similar bill to prevent tech companies from censoring users based on their viewpoints and Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement in favor of the legislation.
"Social media sites have become our modern day public squares where information should be able to flow freely but social media companies are now acting as judge and jury determining what viewpoints are valid," said Abbott.
The measures come after former President Donald Trump, a close DeSantis ally, was banned from most major social media platforms following the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
President Joe Biden last week repealed a Trump executive order directing federal agencies to reinterpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which protects Internet companies from lawsuits targeting the content of their sites.
Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at tech industry trade group Net Choice, said the Florida measure violates First Amendment prohibitions against the government "compelling or controlling speech on private websites."
"By forcing websites to host speech, this bill takes us closer to a state-run internet where the government can cherry pick winners and losers," he said in a statement issued to The Hill.
"Following Donald Trump's lead, Republican-led states are determined to pass laws to force websites and apps to host lies, misinformation and other slime, with full knowledge that those laws are unconstitutional," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a release.
"People eager to chip away at core First Amendment protections for speech must remember that the consequences won't just impact content they dislike -- they'll apply to everything," he added.