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Florida sued to ban social media content blocking


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Two groups representing online companies sued Florida on Thursday over new law which seeks to punish large social media companies like Facebook and Twitter if they remove content or ban politicians.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a bill that will allow the state to fine large social media sites if they deactivate a statewide politician’s account and will allow any Floridian to sue these companies if they feel they have been treated unfairly.

NetChoice, a lobbying firm that represents Twitter, Facebook and other online companies, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association sued, claiming the law violates First Amendment rights.

Tallahassee U.S. District Court complaint says law prevents companies from protecting users, advertisers and the public from “pornography, incitement to terrorism, false propaganda created and disseminated by hostile foreign governments , calls for genocide or racial violence, disinformation regarding Covid-19 vaccines, fraudulent schemes, gross violations of privacy, counterfeit products and other violations of intellectual property rights, intimidation and harassment , conspiracy theories denying the Holocaust or 9/11, and dangerous computer viruses.

DeSantis attacked Big Tech at a press conference for signing the bill, comparing him to Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel “1984”. He said internet companies censor posts that don’t fit Silicon Valley ideology.

In response to Twitter and Facebook blocking former President Donald Trump, Republicans across the country have attacked social media companies for what they say is censoring conservative ideology. While similar bills have been tabled in other states, DeSantis was the first governor to sign one.

The governor’s office defended the new law, saying big tech companies discriminate on political and ideological grounds and the law protects the constitutional rights of Floridians.

“Big Tech is in some ways more powerful than government, and certainly less responsible. Freedom of speech is a sacred right for all Americans. It is recognized that the government has a role to play in protecting consumers from discrimination and deceptive / unfair business practices, and this law falls under that authority to curb a powerful entity that oversteps the free speech rights of people. individuals, ”DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske said in an email. .

The law that comes into force on July 1 provides for a fine of $ 250,000 per day if a statewide political candidate’s account is inactive and $ 25,000 per day if he deletes the account of a candidate. ‘a candidate for a local office.

The law will give the Florida Attorney General the power to prosecute businesses under state deceptive and unfair marketing practices law. It will also allow individual Floridians to sue social media companies up to $ 100,000 if they feel they have been treated unfairly.

The law targets social media platforms that have more than 100 million monthly users worldwide, including online giants like Twitter and Facebook. But lawmakers created an exception for Disney and their apps by including that theme park owners would not be subject to the law.

The law will require large social media companies to publish standards for how they decide to “censor, deplatform, and shadow ban.”

Even before the lawsuit was filed, experts wondered if it would be enforceable.

Federal law prevents Internet companies from being prosecuted for deleting messages, and federal law prevails over state law in the event of a conflict.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act exempts websites from prosecution for removing content deemed “obscene, obscene, lascivious, dirty, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable” as long as the companies act in “good faith” .

“By limiting the ability of digital services to fight bad actors online, this law threatens to make the internet a safe space for criminals, criminals and foreign agents, putting Floridians at risk,” said Matt Schruers , President of the Computer and Communications Industry Association. Release. “Gov. DeSantis is right that this is a free speech issue: a digital service that refuses to host harmful content is exercising its own First Amendment rights. “

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