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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Bill To Stop Big Tech Censorship

MIAMI (CBSMiami/NSF/AP) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made a South Florida stop Monday morning at Florida International University for a bill signing that he says protects Floridians from big tech censorship.

"This is a big problem, we don't even need to get into the election interference that we see from Silicon Valley on major issues that deserve robust debate, Silicon Valley has been acting as a council of censors, they cancel people, when mobs come after people they will pull them down, they shadow ban people which created partisan echo chambers, and honestly, they are some of the major reasons why this country is divided for doing what they are doing. And the worst part about this, Silicon Valley thinks they know better than you. So their power up to this point has effectively been unchecked and they used this power to impose their orthodoxies and their ideology on our public square. This is not how a free society should operate," said DeSantis before signing Senate Bill 7072.

The bill, he said, holds Big Tech accountable by driving transparency and safeguarding Floridians' ability to access and participate in online platforms.

The new law will enable the state to fine large social media companies $250,000 a day if they remove an account of a statewide political candidate, and $25,000 a day if they remove an account of someone running for a local office.

DeSantis, who made the issue one of his top priorities during this year's legislative session, described Florida as a "trailblazer" and said the bill would protect free speech.

DeSantis said big tech companies are controlling accounts to remove content that doesn't suit their ideology.

"What we have seen in recent years is a shift away from internet platforms and social media platforms from really being liberating forces to now being enforcers of orthodoxy," DeSantis said. "So, their primary mission or one of their major missions seems to be suppressing ideas that are either inconvenient to the narrative or which they personally disagree with."

Republicans have accused companies like Twitter and Facebook of censoring conservative thought. DeSantis pointed in particular to then-President Donald Trump being banned by Twitter while still allowing Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to maintain an account.

"When you de-platform the president of the United States but you let Ayatollah Khamenei talk about killing Jews, that is wrong," DeSantis said to thunderous applause at the bill-signing ceremony.

The law, which takes effect July1,  will give Florida's attorney general authority to sue companies under the state's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. It will also allow individual Floridians to sue social media companies if they feel they've been treated unfairly.

Also, a key part of the bill will require social media companies to publish standards about issues such as blocking users and apply the standards consistently.

The bill targets social media platforms that have more than 100 million monthly users, which include online giants as Twitter and Facebook. But lawmakers carved out an exception for Disney and their apps by including that theme park owners wouldn't be subject to the law

Democrats opposed the bill and critic contend it is unconstitutional for Florida to try to regulate how businesses determine what can be posted on social media platforms.

"This is a publicity stunt. It will be struck down in the courts," said State House Rep. Joe Geller who is a Democrat from Aventura. He also said taxpayers will foot the bill for court challenges.

"It will be six figures I hope it's not seven. Defending this blatantly unconstitutional law that will get struck down even by Trump appointees to the courts because it is that unconstitutional," he said.

"The Republican less-government crew is at it again inserting government into privately owned social media companies to placate one individual," state Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said in a statement Monday. "These enterprises take responsibility for what appears on their platforms and have the right to do so. Vulgarity and inciting violence are not their business model and our legislature should appreciate rather than legislate against such a concept."

The bill also drew opposition from Florida's State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

"The (bill) compels businesses to host speech that contradicts the terms and agreements to which users agree --- which legal and First Amendment experts have claimed is unconstitutional," Julio Fuentes, president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said in a prepared statement. "In the same way that a grocery store can turn customers away for not wearing shoes or shirts in their store, social media companies have the right to turn users away for violating their rules."

TechFreedom, a Washington, D.C-based think tank, also argued that the measure is unconstitutional.

"The bill is extreme. It's a brazen assault on the First Amendment," Corbin Barthold, internet policy counsel for TechFreedom, said in a prepared statement. "DeSantis wants to compel websites to speak. He can't. He wants those sites to be subject to campaign-finance law. They aren't. He wants consumer-protection law to erase free-speech rights. It won't. DeSantis is attacking the very constitutional principles Republicans just spent four years putting conservatives on the courts to protect."

(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida and Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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