Judge blocks Florida's social media law penalizing bans of political candidates

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A federal judge blocked the implementation of a new Florida law that imposes financial penalties on tech platforms that ban candidates for statewide office.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday that blocked the law from taking effect Thursday.

The law allowed the Florida Election Commission to fine social media platforms $250,000 each day that a candidate for statewide office is deplatformed, or removed from the service. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had championed the law, saying it created an opportunity for Floridians to sue and win monetary damages.

NetChoice and Computer & Communications Industry Association challenged the law on grounds that it violated the First Amendment’s free-speech protections, arguing that Florida cannot compel companies to endorse speech that violates their terms or is threatening.

Judge Hinkle’s decision for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida said that those challenging the law were likely to win the case on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment.

“First, the State has asserted it is on the side of the First Amendment; the plaintiffs are not. It is perhaps a nice sound bite. But the assertion is wholly at odds with accepted constitutional principles,” Judge Hinkle wrote.

The judge wrote that if he did not issue the injunction against the bill, Florida would sometimes compel and other times forbid speech from the plaintiffs, “all in violation of their editorial judgment.”

“The legislation now at issue was an effort to rein in social-media providers deemed too large and too liberal,” Judge Hinkle wrote. “Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest.”

The decision was cheered by libertarian and progressive advocates who opposed Florida’s intervention into the social media and tech companies’ functions as unconstitutional.

“Political showboating may get you headlines, but it doesn’t often get you a statute that holds up in court, @GovRonDeSantis,” tweeted Ari Cohn, counsel at TechFreedom, a libertarian group that supported the plaintiffs challenging the Florida law.

Allies of Florida’s push to crack down on social media companies, however, viewed the judge’s order as more evidence for the need of a law to rein in large technology companies.

“Guess what’s clearly constitutional? Enforcing our century-old antitrust laws,” Mike Davis, founder of the conservative Internet Accountability Project, tweeted in response to the judge’s order. “End #BigTech’s #AntitrustAmnesty. Break-up the (woke) trillion-dollar monopolists.”

The federal judge’s order in Florida was the second major blow to litigators challenging large technology companies this week. On Monday, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., dismissed antitrust lawsuits against Facebook brought by the Federal Trade Commission and by attorneys general for 46 states plus the District of Columbia and Guam.

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