As a bipartisan group of legislators in Congress, including Senators Amy Klobuchar and Mike Lee, urge the Federal Trade Commission to press ahead with an anti-trust case against Facebook, the problems for the nation’s big tech giants must be just beginning. Thanks to an ambitious young governor, perhaps nowhere are those problems greater than in the state of Florida.
Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) says he remains focused on his 2022 re-election, not a presidential run in 2024. But it doesn’t take a fortune teller to see that the first-term Governor may have his eyes set on a promotion.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSantis consistently frustrated the doomsday progressives who were half-hoping that open beaches would turn into post-apocalyptic hellscapes. Like President Trump, the Florida Governor’s no-nonsense approach even inspires a kind of “DeSantis derangement syndrome” in the mainstream media.
Now, DeSantis is picking another fight—this time with big tech.
After tough-on-tech legislation passed the Florida House 77-38 and the Florida Senate 23-17, DeSantis signed SB 7072, a bill aimed at some of the social media giants’ most controversial behavior. In the wake of legal setbacks for lawsuits directly aimed at concentration among Big Tech companies under federal antitrust law, Florida’s state approach may have a greater effect in the long run.
DeSantis has gotten much attention for the legislation, yet the particulars of the bill often get overlooked. A review of the particulars of the bill sheds light on its potential long-term impact.
Under the new law, a social media company “must apply censorship, deplatforming, and shadow banning standards in a consistent manner among its users” and, if a company is found to be in violation of federal and state antitrust statutes, the state will prohibit the company from contracting with any public entity in the state.
Florida will also offer extra protection against de-platforming political figures by imposing a fine of $250,000 per day for a social media company that de-platforms any candidate for statewide office in Florida.
In a statement, DeSantis argued that the bill will protect “real Floridians” from “Silicon Valley elites.” He compared big tech’s censorship with the “censorship and other tyrannical behavior” many in Florida experienced “firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela.”
Of course, not everyone sees the new anti-big tech law this way. Some have pointed out the bill’s internal inconsistency in exempting from enforcement a “company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex,” a clear carve-out for Orlando-based Disney.
The bill’s constitutionality is another point of contention. Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez emphasized that the bill is necessary to protect free speech in the “virtual public square” so that “information and ideas can flow freely” even if “you voice views that run contrary to [Big Tech’s] radical leftist narrative.”
But others have pointed out that the private companies have free speech and assembly rights themselves. Unsurprisingly, these corporations will make sure courts have an opportunity to sort out legitimate questions.
Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at Netchoice, one of two big tech trade groups suing Florida over the law, argues that the bill “will only make it harder for conservatives to share their news and views online” because it creates a “new Fairness Doctrine” and “compels private businesses to host speech in a blatant violation of the First Amendment.”
But DeSantis and Florida Republicans argue that “social media platforms have morphed into the town square,” as Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls puts it. For free speech to survive in this modern age, he and DeSantis argued, the state can’t allow “secret algorithms, inconsistent standards, shadow banning, and de-platforming” to govern our public discourse.
In any event, one thing is already clear—DeSantis is on to something.
Conservatives have complained for years about selective enforcement by social media platforms. After all, Twitter removed President Trump supposedly to limit the “risk” of “incitement of violence,” yet the platform still hosts Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei and an official page for North Korea’s murderous, totalitarian regime.
As Big Tech gets ready for a fight, DeSantis may be getting ready for an even bigger stage, running for the presidency. DeSantis has always been famously pro-Trump, but if the former president were to decide not to run, in a few years the Florida governor may be able to tell voters how he tamed Big Tech.
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