Federal judge blocks Florida social media law, cites First Amendment

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In a blow to conservative efforts to wrangle social media companies, a federal judge on Wednesday blocked a Florida law that would penalize firms like Facebook and Twitter for "de-platforming" or silencing politicians.

Scheduled to go into effect on Thursday, SB 7072 placed prohibitions on tech companies that ban or "de-platform" political candidates and news outlets from their services. The measure, a groundbreaking piece of legislation, saddles offenders with daily fines, opens the door to direct litigation from users, and creates an antitrust blacklist.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida put the law on hold by issuing a preliminary injunction and in an order suggested the legislation would be found unconstitutional, reports The Washington Post.

"The legislation compels providers to host speech that violates their standards — speech they otherwise would not host — and forbids providers from speaking as they otherwise would," Hinkle wrote.

Hinkle took exception to the law's wide scope, saying, "Like prior First Amendment restrictions, this is an instance of burning the house to roast a pig."

As noted by NBC, the judge cited statements from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and others to show the law is a form of "viewpoint-based" discrimination. Hinkle questioned why larger companies were targeted by the legislation, while smaller firms and — in a gesture to Disney — theme park operators were not.

"The legislation now at issue was an effort to rein in social-media providers deemed too large and too liberal," Hinkle wrote. "Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest. And even aside from the actual motivation for this legislation, it is plainly content-based and subject to strict scrutiny."

The ruling came as part of a lawsuit against SB 7072 lodged by two tech industry trade groups, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association. In the suit, plaintiffs claimed First Amendment rights were at risk as companies might be forced to host content that would typically be prohibited under their respective business policies. The groups represent a number of tech giants including Facebook, Google and Twitter.

DeSantis signed SB 7072 into law in May after the bill sailed through Florida's Republican-led legislature. The law is partly a response to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter's suspension of former president Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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