Federal judge blocks Florida’s social media law
A U.S. district court judge has issued a temporary injunction halting the implementation of a Florida law that would have forced large social media companies to host speech that violates their terms of service.
As Techdirt’s Mike Masnick writes:
Florida’s arguments in favor of the bill were not well received. I listened to the entire hearing and, to put it mildly, the judge was not impressed by Florida’s arguments. At one point, he literally asked the lawyer defending the bill if he had ever come across a more poorly drafted piece of legislation. That’s generally not a good sign.
And, now, with just hours to go until the law was supposed to go into effect, the judge has granted the preliminary injunction blocking the bill, and the ruling makes it pretty clear that this bill is not going to survive. Of course, Florida will likely appeal the ruling, and it’ll be up to the Appeals Court to go into more depth.
Judge Robert Hinkle pulled no punches in his opinion on how the law violated the First Amendment:
First, the State has asserted it is on the side of the First Amendment; the plaintiffs are not. It is perhaps a nice sound bite. But the assertion is wholly at odds with accepted constitutional principles. The First Amendment says “Congress” shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. The Fourteenth Amendment extended this prohibition to state and local governments. The First Amendment does not restrict the rights of private entities not performing traditional, exclusive public functions. See, e.g., Manhattan Cmty. Access Corp. v. Halleck, 139 S. Ct. 1921, 1930 (2019). So whatever else may be said of the providers’ actions, they do not violate the First Amendment.
Second, the First Amendment applies to speech over the internet, just as it applies to more traditional forms of communication. See, e.g., Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844, 870 (1997) (stating that prior cases, including those allowing greater regulation of broadcast media, “provide no basis for qualifying the level of First Amendment scrutiny that should be applied” to the internet).
Third, state authority to regulate speech has not increased even if, as Florida argued nearly 50 years ago and is again arguing today, one or a few powerful entities have gained a monopoly in the marketplace of ideas, reducing the means available to candidates or other individuals to communicate on matters of public interest. In Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241 (1974), the Court rejected just such an argument, striking down a Florida statute requiring a newspaper to print a candidate’s reply to the newspaper’s unfavorable assertions. A similar argument about undue concentration of power was commonplace as the social-media restrictions now at issue advanced through the Florida Legislature. But here, as in Tornillo, the argument is wrong on the law; the concentration of market power among large social-media providers does not change the governing First Amendment principles. And the argument is also wrong on the facts. Whatever might be said of the largest providers’ monopolistic conduct, the internet provides a greater opportunity for individuals to publish their views—and for candidates to communicate directly with voters—than existed before the internet arrived. To its credit, the State does not assert that the dominance of large providers renders the First Amendment inapplicable.
The state has promised to appeal – and the chances are strong it will lose, just as it did in the district court. Government cannot compel speech, or censor the speech of others. That is offensive to liberty, the First Amendment, and common sense.