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Judge blocks Florida 'big tech' crackdown bill from becoming law

The law was introduced after former President Donald Trump was banned from several social media sites.
Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump speaks with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he arrives at Southwest Florida International Airport, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Fort Myers, Fla.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal judge temporarily blocked a Florida law set to go into effect Thursday that would have allowed the state to fine social media companies if they de-platformed or censored political candidates. 

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a preliminary injunction, effectively putting the "big tech" crackdown law on hold, writing that it likely runs afoul of the free speech rights under the First Amendment.

"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," he said.

Technology companies faced a fine of up to $250,000 per day from the Florida Election Commission if they removed a candidate running for statewide office from their service. Violations involving candidates vying for office out of state included a $25,000 a day fine.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made Senate Bill 7072 a top priority since early February after several companies de-platformed users and websites said to be spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories, most prominently former President Donald Trump.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, in a statement said the "legislation was never about good policy," noting the loophole exempted companies that owned theme parks in the state of Florida. 

"...it was always about perpetrating culture wars to appeal to former President Donald Trump who helped to incite the January 6th insurrection via his rhetoric and social media accounts," she said, in part.  

The president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, Matt Schruers, told Axios the ruling was "encouraging." Eskamani said she anticipates an appeal from the state.

Schruers group was among those who sued to block the law.

"Florida’s statute is an extraordinary overreach, designed to penalize private businesses for their perceived lack of deference to the Government’s political ideology," Schruers told Axios. The court’s ruling is a win for internet users and the First Amendment."

Gov. DeSantis' office responded to 10 Tampa Bay's request for comment and said the following:

"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. We plan to immediately appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. As Judge Hinkle seemed to indicate during this week’s hearing on preliminary injunction, this case was always bound for the Eleventh Circuit and the appeals court will ultimately make its own decision on legal conclusions. Governor DeSantis continues to fight for freedom of speech and against Big Tech’s discriminatory censorship."

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