DeSantis’ attacks on Big Tech are political theater and go against the First Amendment | Editorial

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He calls them the “Big Tech cartel,” and ever since Twitter, Facebook and other social-media companies banned his political godfather, Gov. DeSantis has launched a crusade against them.

Speaking at a news conference on Feb. 2 about the proposed “Transparency in Technology Act” (it goes by the unfortunate acronym “TiT”) DeSantis vowed to protect Floridians — or a certain Mar-a-Lago resident — from tech companies’ censorship that he says discriminates against conservatives.

DeSantis’ plan has less to do with substance and more with appeasing Donald Trump and making DeSantis the next messiah of his base.

But there’s no evidence that social-media platforms disproportionately target conservatives and, in fact, conservative pages such as Fox News and Breitbart dominate engagement on Facebook, according to a New York University study released in February.

Potential fines

There’s another tiny detail: Much of what the Transparency in Technology Act attempts to do is what the First Amendment prevents government from doing: telling private businesses what kind of speech they should allow on their platforms.

The proposal would impose daily fines of up to $100,000 on tech companies that de-platform a political candidate in Florida, and fine a company that uses its content and algorithms “to suppress or prioritize the content related to political candidates.” Social-media platforms also would be required to reveal how they became aware of any content they censor.

What DeSantis is trying to do is similar to an old law the Supreme Court struck down in 1974’s Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo. That law required newspapers to allow equal space to political candidates to respond to that paper’s editorial-page criticism. The court ruled newspapers should have full control of the content they publish, a protection that’s been expanded to internet companies.

“(The Transparency in Technology Act) would compel social-media companies to host speech they don’t want to,” Clay Calvert, a First Amendment expert at the University of Florida’s law school, told the Miami Herald’s Editorial Board. “ Instead of a newspaper print medium, you’re now compelling social-media platforms to host the speech of individuals.”

Users’ privacy

DeSantis’ heavy-handed and regressive political theater aside, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google and others deserve their day of reckoning for their use of consumer data. The price we pay for using those platforms is our own privacy and personal information that is sold for a profit. On this front, DeSantis and House Republicans are onto something.

While “TiT” has not been filed as a bill — and it shouldn’t be — lawmakers filed a different bill last week. Despite DeSantis’ combative anti-Big Tech rhetoric, House Bill 969 is a “pretty mundane standard privacy bill,” Corbin Barthold, an internet policy lawyer at the think tank TechFreedom, told the Editorial Board.

HB 969 would allow users to know what data companies collect, request it be erased and ask whether it was sold or shared. The state and individuals would also be allowed to sue companies that violate their rules.

Consumers deserve to know what happens once they hit the “accept” button on terms and conditions. But experts warn the best place for such regulations is Congress, and not state legislatures, because tech companies operate across state lines.

But the proposal deserves a discussion. Unike the DeSantis’ misguided crusade, HB 969 appears to have consumers’ interest at its core.

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