(CNN Business) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis hit big tech this Monday by signing a highly controversial state bill that aims to regulate how digital platforms moderate online content.
The legislation marks one of the biggest steps yet by a Republican governor to act on complaints of online censorship at the hands of companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter.
But critics of the tech industry say the legislation is unconstitutional, setting the stage for a court battle over the law.
On public statements, Monday, DeSantis blamed a “council of censors” in Silicon Valley for silencing the debate on quarantines over COVID-19 and the origins of the disease.
“I would say these lockdowns have ruined the lives of millions of people across the country,” DeSantis said. ‘Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a full discussion on that in our public square? But that was not what Silicon Valley wanted to do.
The bill that DeSantis signed prohibits technology platforms suspend or ban political candidates in the state, with possible fines of US $ 250,000 per day if the candidate from whom the platform is taken away is nominated for state office and US $ 25,000 per day if nominated for a local charge.
The legislation also gives Florida residents the ability to sue tech companies for disabling the use of their platforms. Similar bills have also been considered in states like Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Utah.
The Florida bill comes at a time when US lawmakers have proposed significant changes to federal law that give tech platforms legal leeway to cure their platforms without being sued. The federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, has come under fire from Democrats who argue that platforms benefit from the law’s immunity protections without doing enough to curb offensive content, while Republicans They argue that the platforms restrict too much content.
Tech industry officials have repeatedly denied blocking or removing content for reasons of political ideology. Many technology platforms have policies that prohibit the dissemination of misleading or false information about the 2020 elections, and some high-profile Republicans, such as former President Donald Trump, have violated those policies, leading to their suspension from major digital platforms.
Florida law will force tech platforms to step back from moderating their sites due to the threat of litigation by “any Internet user, from foreign extremists to trolls disgruntled Internet, “said the Computing and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a technology trade group.
CCIA President Matt Schruers wrote in a op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel newspaper that there will surely be lawsuits: “Florida taxpayers will also end up paying their share of the cost of enforcing the new regulations, and for the inevitable legal challenges that will come along with the legislature’s effort to adopt a law with obvious constitutional challenges.”
The CCIA has also raised concerns about a highly controversial provision of the bill that exempts the websites of theme park operators, which some critics have been interpreted as a special exemption for Disney. (Comcast, owner of NBCUniversal and operator of Universal Orlando theme park, also appears to be covered by the exemption).
Doubts about the constitutionality of the bill are based on First Amendment cases that prohibit the government from forcing private entities to speak out.
“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, backed by Section 230, makes it very clear that states have no power to compel private companies to host speeches, especially from politicians,” said Oregon Democratic Senator Ron. Wyden, a co-author of Section 230, in a statement regarding the signing of the Florida bill.