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Florida law would ban social sites from banning politicians

Supporters say it's an anti-censorship measure, but critics worry about disinformation and dangerous content.

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Donald Trump and social media
James Martin/CNET

Florida could soon become the first US state to prohibit social media companies like Facebook and Twitter from kicking politicians off their sites, following the high-profile banning earlier this year of then-President Donald Trump. A bill passed this week by Florida's Republican-led House and Senate and headed for the governor's desk says social sites can't "deplatform" political candidates, meaning they can't permanently send them packing or temporarily ban them for more than 14 days.

Sites that violate the law could be fined $250,000 per day for deplatforming statewide candidates and $25,000 a day for banning candidates for other offices.

Supporters of the bill, SB 7072, say it would prevent social media companies from censoring views that the firms don't agree with. But critics say the legislation would keep companies from cracking down on disinformation and dangerous content.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and Trump ally, called for the bill's passage and is expected to sign it into law, NBC News reported Friday, but it added that the legislation may well be challenged in court.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media firms have repeatedly denied claims by some on the right that they censor content for ideological reasons.

Twitter permanently banned Trump on Jan. 8 "due to the risk of further incitement of violence" after the deadly riot on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Facebook blocked Trump "indefinitely" the same day. The moves followed a number of instances in which Twitter had obscured controversial Trump tweets with a warning label that included a link to more information and that let users click through to read the tweet. Facebook generally took a more hands-off approach but did add labels to Trump's baseless claims about election fraud.

A Republican representative who sponsored a version of the Florida bill told the Tampa Bay Times that companies like Facebook and Twitter simply have too much power to control speech.

"Big tech must be held accountable. Big tech cannot be left unchecked,'' Rep. Blaise Ingoglia told the publication. "Social media companies and how big they are getting are indeed becoming a problem, and it's becoming a First Amendment issue."

But an executive at tech lobbying firm NetChoice, which describes itself as working "to make the Internet safe for free enterprise and free expression," told the Times that the Florida legislation is unconstitutional.

"This bill abandons conservative values, violates the First Amendment, and would force websites to host antisemitic, racist and hateful content," Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, told the paper.

The Washington Post reported in January that the week after Twitter banned Trump, and other sites banned various pro-Trump content, online misinformation about election fraud fell by 73%. But the effect of deplatforming is mixed, a specialist in disinformation told the Post.

"Bottom line is that deplatforming, especially at the scale that occurred last week, rapidly curbs momentum and ability to reach new audiences," Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council's disinformation-tracking Digital Forensic Research Lab, told the Post at the time. But deplatforming "also has the tendency to harden the views of those already engaged in the spread of that type of false information."