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Florida AG, election commissioners sued over 'big tech' crackdown law

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law Monday after making the legislation a top priority during this year's session.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court challenges a new Florida law Gov. Ron DeSantis signed this week that would crack down on "big tech" companies that de-platform political candidates. 

The complaint claims the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and unfairly targets certain companies, while making exemptions to others that have a large revenue presence in Florida, such as Disney and Universal. 

The plaintiffs include two nonprofit organizations based in Washington, D.C.: NetChoice and Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA). Associates and members of the organizations include companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, Verizon, TikTok, Dish, Samsung, Uber, Lyft, Pinterest and eBay, among others.

The lawsuit names Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and several commissioners of the Florida Elections Commission as defendants, not the governor. Gov. Ron DeSantis made this piece of legislation a top priority since early February after several companies de-platformed notable users and websites that had been accused of spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories.

The most notable person was former President Donald Trump, whose ban from social media following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol sparked debate among lawmakers as to the influence social media companies have on the nation's conversations.

Under SB 7072, Moody would have the authority under Florida's Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act to go after tech companies that de-platform people.

The law makes it so if a tech company de-platforms or censors any candidate running for statewide office, the business could face a fine of up to $250,000 per day from the Florida Election Commission. A fine of $25,000 a day could be imposed on social media platforms that de-platform candidates for non-statewide offices. 

“This session, we took action to ensure that ‘We the People’ — real Floridians across the Sunshine State — are guaranteed protection against the Silicon Valley elites,” DeSantis said when he signed the bill into law. “Many in our state have experienced censorship and other tyrannical behavior firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela. If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable.”

DeSantis said the bill aims to stop big tech companies from "moving the goalposts” to silence viewpoints they don’t like.

However, the lawsuit challenges Florida's new law, saying it "discriminates against and infringes the First Amendment rights" of certain "targeted companies." 

"These unprecedented restrictions are a blatant attack on a wide range of content-moderation choices that these private companies have to make on a daily basis to protect their services, users, advertisers, and the public at large from a variety of harmful, offensive, or unlawful material," the complaint says in part.

"Rather than preventing what it calls 'censorship,' the Act does the exact opposite: it empowers government officials in Florida to police the protected editorial judgment of online businesses that the State disfavors and whose perceived political viewpoints it wishes to punish," the complaint continues in part.

Florida's new law also requires social media companies to be more transparent about how they moderate their content. The companies must now give users "proper notice of changes to those policies."

The lawsuit says these "notice requirements are particularly burdensome and problematic because by prescribing specific disclosures about the reason for the removal of virtually any category of content, covered online businesses would be providing a host of bad-faith actors (from terrorists to hostile foreign governments and spammers) a roadmap for how to post unwanted, harmful content by circumventing the protections currently in place."

The complaint alleges that under the new law, Florida "cannot show that there is any real problem in need of solving and that these statutory provisions further a 'compelling' governmental interest (or even any legitimate governmental interest)."

And, the lawsuit claims the requirements in the law "are both over-and underinclusive in numerous respects."

One aspect of Florida's new law that is continually brought up throughout the lawsuit is the new law's exemption of certain companies that operate theme parks or an "entertainment complex" in the state. Notably, this includes Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. 

The law states that "the term [social media platform] does not include any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex as defined" in state law.

The lawsuit asks the state's federal court to declare the new law as unconstitutional and seeks a permanent injunction to stop the law's enforcement.

You can read the full complaint here.

RELATED: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs 'big tech' crackdown bill into law

RELATED: Florida could enact law that would prevent social media sites from 'deplatforming' politicians

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