Florida’s Social Media Law Likely Violates First Amendment, Appeals Court Rules

A federal appellate court is keeping Florida’s social media law – intended to address alleged platform bias against conservatives – on hold, after a three-judge panel ruled that it was “substantially likely” that it violates the First Amendment.

The law, signed and championed by the state’s governor Ron DeSantis takes aim at the content moderation practices of Facebook, Twitter and other sites, as it would prohibit the companies from de-platforming political candidates and prioritizing or de-prioritizing posts about a candidate. It also would prohibit platforms from removing anything posted by a “journalistic enterprise” based on its content, the judges noted.

“We further conclude that it is substantially likely that one of the law’s particularly onerous disclosure provisions—which would require covered platforms to provide a ‘thorough rationale’ for each and every content-moderation decision they make—violates the First Amendment,” Judge Kevin Newsom wrote in the opinion. (Read it here).

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The decision affirms a lower court ruling and an argument made by the social media companies that the First Amendment protects their decisions on what to allow on their sites.

In their decision, Newsom seemed to be trying to remind the public that social media platforms are “private enterprises, not governmental (or even quasi-governmental) entities.”

“No one has an obligation to contribute to or consume the content that the platforms make available,” they wrote. “And correlatively, while the Constitution protects citizens from governmental efforts to restrict their access to social media no one has a vested right to force a platform to allow her to contribute to or consume social-media content.”

Newsom was nominated to the federal appellate court by President Donald Trump, who has been a frequent critic of the social media platforms. Trump launched Truth Social, a rival to Twitter, in part because of his claims that the platform was biased against voices on the right.

Newsom also wrote that the platforms aren’t just “dumb pipes.”

“They’re not just servers and hard drives storing information or hosting blogs that anyone can access, and they’re not internet service providers reflexively transmitting data from point A to point B,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, internet platforms have appealed to the Supreme Court in their effort to put a Texas law on hold. A federal appeals court in Texas lifted an injunction on that law earlier this month. The Texas law prohibits large platforms from censoring users based on viewpoint.

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