Judge blocks Florida law aimed at punishing social media

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures as he speaks, Monday, June 14, 2021, at the Shul of Bal Harbour, a Jewish community center in Surfside, Fla. DeSantis visited the South Florida temple to denounce anti-Semitism and stand with Israel, while signing a bill into law that would require public schools in his state to set aside moments of silence for children to meditate or pray. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday blocked for the time being a new Florida law that sought to punish large social media businesses like Facebook and Twitter if they remove content or ban politicians.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle granted a preliminary injunction stopping the new law from being enforced. The law — which was supposed to take effect on Thursday — enabled the state to fine large social media companies $250,000 a day if they remove an account of a statewide political candidate, and $25,000 a day if they remove an account of someone running for a local office.

The legislation was challenged in federal court in Tallahassee by NetChoice, a lobbying firm that represents Twitter, Facebook and other online companies, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association. Both said the new law was unconstitutional and violated federal law.

The plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their claim that the new law violated the First Amendment if the case went to trial, the judge said.

Hinkle said the new law was aimed at only large social media businesses, not smaller ones that provide the same services, and made exceptions for Disney and their apps by including that theme park owners wouldn’t be subject to the law. Walt Disney World outside Orlando is one of the state's largest private employers.

“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.

When signing the bill into law in May, Gov. Ron DeSantis said that Silicon Valley companies were exerting unprecedented power over the American people.

“When you de-platform the president of the United States but you let Ayatollah Khamenei talk about killing Jews, that is wrong,” said DeSantis, referring to Donald Trump's suspension from Twitter and Facebook.

“We are disappointed by Judge Hinkle’s ruling and disagree with his determination that the U.S. Constitution protects Big Tech’s censorship of certain individuals and content over others,” DeSantis' office said in a statement Wednesday night.

“We plan to immediately appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals,” the statement said.

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