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Judge blocks Florida law that punishes social platforms for banning politicians

Judge blocks Florida law that punishes social platforms for banning politicians
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (L) with then-President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in 2020. Photo by Doug Mills/UPI | License Photo

July 1 (UPI) -- A federal judge has blocked a Florida law from taking effect that would allow extensive punitive fines to be imposed against large social media companies that ban politicians or remove content.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida granted the preliminary injunction against FL SB 7072 less than a day before it was to take affect on Thursday, stating it violates the constitution.

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The Republican-supported law was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 24, who said it would protect Floridians against the censorship of "Silicon Valley elites."

The law was pursued in the wake of Facebook and Twitter banning the accounts of former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol building.

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The law would require social media companies to make publicly available their content moderation practices and allow the Florida Election Commission to impose fines of $250,000 a day on any social media company that bans a candidate for statewide office and $25,000 a day for banning a non-statewide candidate for office.

In his ruling, Hinkle states the law imposes "sweeping requirements" on some but not all social media providers, exempting smaller companies that provide the same services and those owned by a large Florida theme park. It also forces the companies to host speech they don't agree with and prevents them from speaking as they otherwise wood.

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He said under close scrutiny, the law's statutes that infringe upon speech are board with the government providing no argument to justify their scope and the notion they level the playing field "is not a legitimate state interest."

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"Whatever might be said of any other allegedly compelling state interest, these statutes are not narrowly tailored," Hinkle wrote. "... [T]his is an instance of burning the house to roast a pig."

Hinkle also accused the law of being "viewpoint-based" and that there was substantial factual support "that the actual motivation for this legislation was hostility to the social media platform's perceived liberal viewpoints."

The judge also said the government had no argument for why the law only applied to social media companies with $100 million in revenue or 100 million monthly participants while it could not explain why social media providers under common ownership with "a large Florida theme park" were also excluded.

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"The plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits of their claim that these statutes violate the First Amendment," Hinkle said. "There is nothing that could be severed and survive."

The ruling was made in a case filed by NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, who sought the injunction on the grounds it violates freedom of speech, equal protection and due process protected by the First and 14th Amendments.

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"This order protects private businesses against the state's demand that social media carry user posts that are against their community standards," Steve DelBianco, president of NetChoice, said in a statement. "Even better, it lets social media provide high-quality services to their users while keeping them safe from the worst content posted by irresponsible users."

DeSantis' office said it intends to appeal the decision.

"We are disappointed by Judge Hinkle's ruling and disagree with his determination that the U.S. Constitution protects Tech's censorship of certain individuals and content over others," it said in a statement.

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