Florida has become the first state to allow citizens to sue Big Tech over censorship issues.
The bill was signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and is seen as a model for other states after Congress has repeatedly failed to reign in the power of Google, YouTube and social media companies.
The legislation was applauded by free speech advocates, including Cuban and Venezuelan exiles, state senators, and deplatformed social media users who joined DeSantis at the bill signing ceremony.
Courts may award up to $100,000 in damages to an individual if a social media platform censors or shadowbans a user’s content, deplatforms a user, or if it hasn’t applied censorship or deplatforming standards in a consistent manner, according to the text of the bill.
“We will be the first state to hold Big Tech accountable,” DeSantis said at a press conference. “They are exerting a power that really has no precedent in American history.”
Big tech companies that violate the bill, SB 7072 Social Media Platforms, can be sued by Floridians for monetary damages. The state’s attorney general can bring action against companies that violate this law under Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The bill is similar to a new law in Poland that offers users recourse and protections against censorship.
As an example, the governor mentioned that people were deplatformed for discussing the Wuhan lab leak theory regarding the origins of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, whereas now that theory has become a topic of mainstream discussion.
“2021 looks more like the fictitious 1984,” the governor said.
The law also blocks Big Tech from deplatforming Floridian political candidates. The Florida Election Commission will impose fines of $250,000 per day on any social media company that deplatforms any candidates for statewide office. The fine is $25,000 per day when deplatforming candidates for other offices.
While Floridians have the right to block anyone, it’s not the role of Big Tech to censor, said DeSantis.
“SB 7072 is a bold first step to reining in Big Tech tyranny by defending the rights of all Floridians in the digital space,” DeSantis said. “Over the years, these platforms have changed from neutral platforms that provide Americans with the freedom to speak to enforcers of preferred narratives.
If social media platforms are found to have violated antitrust law, they’ll be restricted from contracting with any public entity. That “antitrust violator” blacklist imposes real consequences for Big Tech oligopolies’ bottom line. According to DeSantis, the law will also require social media companies to be transparent about their content moderation practices and give users proper notice of changes to those policies.
According to Florida state, the new law will likely be able to withstand legal challenges, as it contains language that explains how Big Tech companies are different from other corporations, and that Section 230 requires companies to act in good faith—something the governor accuses Big Tech of not always following.
Florida won’t be the only state enacting such a law, according to DeSantis.
“We are seeing other states now following suit,” he said. “It starts in Florida but it doesn’t end in Florida.”