A U.S. appellate court on Monday upheld a preliminary injunction against the implementation of Florida's social media law, signed last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
May 23 (UPI) -- A U.S. appellate court on Monday upheld a preliminary injunction against a Florida law banning social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter from removing content and users from their platforms.
The 11th Circuit Court's unanimous 3-0 decision blocked most provisions of the social media law, which it ruled would threaten the First Amendment rights of private platforms.
"Not in their wildest dreams could anyone in the Founding generation have imagined Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or TikTok," the court wrote in its opinion. "But whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology, the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment's command, do not vary when a new and different medium for communication appears."
The ruling is a blow to Republicans and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who have accused tech companies of discriminating against conservative thought.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle granted the preliminary injunction last July one day before the law took effect. It would have allowed punitive fines against social media companies for banning politicians or content.
"With minor exceptions, the government can't tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it," the court wrote. "Social media companies' so-called 'content moderation' decisions constitute protected exercises of editorial judgment."
A similar law in Texas went into effect earlier this month. Gov. Greg Abbott's office said the law will protect Texans "from wrongful censorship on social media platforms."
Tech industry trade groups representing the social media platforms argued the Florida restrictions would prohibit them from protecting themselves, users and the general public from "harmful and objectionable matter."
"This ruling means platforms cannot be forced by the government to disseminate vile, abusive and extremist content under penalty of law," Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said in a statement. "This is good news for internet users, the First Amendment and free speech in a democracy.
"When a digital service takes action against problematic content on its own site -- whether extremism, Russian propaganda, or racism and abuse -- it is exercising its own right to free expression," he added.
The appeals court, however, declined to block certain other provisions of the law, including a ban on access to user data and disclosure provisions requiring platforms to explain their moderation decisions.
"We are pleased the court recognized the state's authority to rein in social media companies and upheld major portions of Florida's law leading the way in doing so. We will continue to vigorously defend Florida's authority to demand accountability from Big Tech," Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody tweeted.