A Bill Clinton-appointed federal judge has thrown a wrench at the DeSantis administration’s efforts in Florida to clamp down on Big Tech censorship. The judge argued that the law was a violation of corporations’ free speech rights.
On Wednesday, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking a law pushed forward by Governor Ron DeSantis that would prohibit “A social media platform from willfully deplatforming a candidate.” The law, which was signed by DeSantis, reads in part:
Social media platforms that unfairly censor, shadowban, deplatform, or apply post-prioritization algorithms to Florida candidates, Florida users, or Florida residents are not acting in good faith. … Social media platforms have unfairly censored, shadow banned, deplatformed, and applied post-prioritization algorithms to Floridians.
It adds that social media platforms “may not willfully deplatform a candidate for office who is known by the social media platform to be a candidate, beginning on the date of qualification and ending on the date of the election or the date the candidate ceases to be a candidate.”
A social media platform must provide each user a method by which the user may be identified as a qualified candidate and which provides sufficient information to allow the social media platform to confirm the user’s qualification by reviewing the website of the Division of Elections or the website of the local supervisor of elections. Upon a finding of a violation of subsection (2) by the Florida Elections Commission, in addition to the remedies provided in ss. 106.265 and 106.27, the social media platform may be fined $250,000 per day for a candidate for statewide office and $25,000 per day for a candidate for other offices.
The law was based partly on remarks made by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who equated social media platforms to common carriers, stating that they should be held to special regulations preventing them from restricting their spaces based on political beliefs.
“Our legal system and its British predecessor have long subjected certain businesses, known as common carriers, to special regulations, including a general requirement to serve all comers. … this Court long ago suggested that regulations like those placed on common carriers may be justified, even for industries not historically recognized as common carriers, when ‘a business, by circumstances and its nature, . . . rise[s] from private to be of public concern.,’” he wrote.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle stated in the injunction that banning Big Tech “deplatforming” likely violated the free speech rights of tech companies, writing, “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.”
“Like prior First Amendment restrictions, this is an instance of burning the house to roast a pig. … Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest. And even aside from the actual motivation for this legislation, it is plainly content-based and subject to strict scrutiny,” he added, reported NBC News.