On April 29, Florida’s House and Senate approved a bill aimed at prohibiting social media networks from banning politicians. Despite backlash from Big Tech and Democrats attempting to justify the censorship measures, several officials and citizens have spoken up to defend freedom of speech and the dissemination of truth in America.
Introduced by Republican Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, Senate Bill (SB) 7072 passed with a 77 to 38 vote in the House and 23 to 17 vote in the Senate, and is now awaiting Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature to be enacted into law. Social media companies that violate the law will be fined $250,000 per day if a statewide politician is banned from the platform. For other elected officials, the penalty will be fixed at $25,000.
However, if a politician violates a platform’s terms of service, the company will be allowed to remove the user’s posts and suspend the user for up to two weeks. Since the bill applies to platforms that have over 100 million monthly users and make over 100 million dollars per year, only large social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook will fall under its purview.
“A social media platform may not willfully deplatform a candidate for office who is known by the social media platform to be a candidate, beginning on the date of qualification and ending on the date of the election or the date the candidate ceases to be a candidate,” according to the bill.
“A social media platform must provide each user a method by which the user may be identified as a qualified candidate and which provides sufficient information to allow the social media platform to confirm the user’s qualification by reviewing the website of the Division of Elections or the website of the local supervisor of elections,” the bill continues.
SB 7072 also states that social media companies that apply post-prioritization algorithms to Florida users, residents, or candidates are “not acting in good faith.” Post-prioritization refers to actions taken by companies to prioritize certain content ahead of others in the news feed, search results, and so on.
Networks have exploited this feature in the past to ensure that posts by targeted politicians are less likely to be seen by readers, even when censorship is not explicit. Protections granted to statewide politicians will also be extended to media outlets, such that social media networks cannot censor, deplatform, or shadow ban any “journalistic enterprise” based on the content they have published.
Protecting free speech and promoting truth
Democrats such as Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith have accused proponents of the bill of introducing the measures in response to Twitter deplatforming former President Donald Trump following the “insurrection he incited” at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Steve DelBianco, the president of NetChoice, a coalition of ecommerce and online businesses, alleged that the bill compels private social media platforms to host content that “is against its policies or preferences.”
The criticisms were dismissed by Republican Representative John Snyder, who pointed out that the bill is not about Trump, but rather the First Amendment rights of 22 million Floridians. “What this bill is about is sending a loud message to Silicon Valley that they are not the absolute arbiters of truth… What this bill does is send a loud message that the Constitution does not have an asterisk that says only certain speech is free and protected,” Snyder said in a statement.
Republican Representative Andy Biggs from Arizona believes that Big Tech censorship closely resembles how media outlets work on behalf of authoritarian governments. He has decided to reject all campaign contributions from these companies, calling them dishonest brokers of information. Biggs accuses Big Tech of controlling the narrative and preventing open dialogue, citing the tech ban on Project Veritas for revealing biases prevalent within mainstream media channel CNN.
Meanwhile, Australian member of parliament (MP) Craig Kelly has also proposed a bill to regulate Big Tech and protect the rights of political candidates in his country. Kelly was recently banned from Facebook for posting about research on alternative Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) treatments, a move that Facebook justified by claiming that it was acting against “misinformation about COVID-19.
”Kelly denied the accusation, stating that the content he shared was research published by medical experts. “The market power of the foreign-controlled tech-giants and their ability to censor political speech is an immediate and direct threat to our democracy… We have seen in Australia Facebook acting as a media thug and bully, who believes they are above the law and are arbiters of truth. Governor De Santis of Florida has acted to hold these social-media giants to account,” Kelly told The Epoch Times.