Breaking down Florida’s new ‘Big Tech crackdown’ bill signed by Gov. DeSantis

Politics

MIAMI, Fla. (WFLA) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill on Monday to target social media giants for censorship and create fines for social media companies that “deplatform” Florida political candidates.

Senate Bill 7072 aims to hold companies like Facebook and Twitter accountable for alleged censorship, as well as what DeSantis calls tyrannical behavior and discrimination favoring certain ideologies.

“This session, we took action to ensure that ‘We the People’ — real Floridians across the Sunshine State — are guaranteed protection against the Silicon Valley elites,” DeSantis said in a statement after signing the bill into law. “Many in our state have experienced censorship and other tyrannical behavior firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela. If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable.”

The law authorizes the Department of Legal Affairs to investigate suspected violations under the Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and bring specified actions for such violations, according to information from the Florida Senate.

According to the language of the new law, SB 7072 was written to provide protections to Floridians in an increasingly digital age, where reliance on social media continues.

The bill states, “social media platforms have transformed into the new public town square,” and claims some platforms may unfairly censor, shadow ban or deplatform political candidates and residents from Florida.

To protect residents, the state says it has a “substantial interest in protecting its residents from inconsistent and unfair actions by social media platforms,” and seeks to impose monetary fines for future actions that may qualify as censorship under the new law.

Going forward, social media platforms will not be allowed to purposely or “willfully” ban a candidate for public office, who is identified as a candidate on social media, from the day they qualify for an election to the end of the cycle when they stop being a candidate. Social platforms will also have to give users a way to identify members as qualified candidates and allow them to confirm their qualifications by reviewing the Division of Elections website or the site for a local elections supervisor to confirm a candidate’s identity in a race.

If a candidate is deplatformed, defined by law as permanently deleting or banning political candidates from social media accounts, the state would be able to fine them $250,000 a day for statewide candidates or $25,000 for other candidates if the company’s actions amount to a violation.

On top of that, Florida residents will be able to sue Big Tech companies and win monetary damages, according to the governor’s Office.

“All Floridians treated unfairly by Big Tech platforms will have the right to sue companies that violate this law — and win monetary damages,” a statement sent by DeSantis’ office said. “This reform safeguards the rights of every Floridian by requiring social media companies to be transparent about their content moderation practices and give users proper notice of changes to those policies, which prevents Big Tech bureaucrats from “moving the goalposts” to silence viewpoints they don’t like.”

According to reporting by NBC, SB 7072 was written “in nod” to the ban of former President Donald Trump being banned from Facebook and Twitter following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

The law also states that a social media platform may not take actions that censor, platform, or shadow ban a journalistic enterprise based on the content of their publications or broadcasts.

Under the new law, journalistic enterprises are defined as entities doing business in Florida that:

  • Publish more than 100,000 words online with at least 50,000 paid subscribers or 100,000 monthly active users
  • Publish 100 hours of audio or video online with at least 100 million viewers annually
  • Operates a cable channel that provides more than 40 hours of content per week to more than 100,000 cable television subscribers
  • Operates under a broadcast license issued by the Federal Communications Commission

Additionally, social media platforms cannot provide free advertising for a political candidate without informing them of “such in-kind contribution.” The law says posts, content, material and comments made by political candidates that are shown on social platforms in a similar way to user posts are not considered as free advertising.

Post-prioritization is also targeted, in this case meaning the use of algorithms to take actions to feature or prioritize specific content or materials ahead of or below others in a newsfeed, feed, view, or search results in less prominent positions than other content.

This term, as defined in the law here, does not include the content and materials of a third party, including users, based on payments by that third party. So, paid or sponsored content given priority is still allowed, but platforms using their analytics tools to otherwise lower visibility of certain content is not.

Due to the definition used in SB 7072 for a social media platform, any information service, system, search engine, or software provider that enables computer access to a computer service by multiple users is included.

To qualify as a social media platform under SB 7072, companies must also “satisfy at least one of the following thresholds”:

  • Has gross annual revenues over $100 million, as of January of each odd-numbered year
  • Has at least 100 million monthly individual users globally

The new law also has provisions dealing with antitrust violations, including the creation of a list of antitrust violators that the state and other public entities may not conduct business with.

At this stage, it is unclear if Florida residents, such as Trump, can return to platforms as a result of the new law.

Read the full text of SB 7072:

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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