Roughly three-and-a-half months after ex-President Donald Trump got booted from Twitter and later, from the White House into pseudo-retirement at Mar-a-Lago's Office of the Former President in Palm Beach, Florida, (a.k.a the geriatric equivalent of posting a sign on your childhood bedroom door saying "KEEP OUT") the Sunshine State passed a law seemingly in honor of their most divisive elderly resident, making it illegal for social media companies to de-platform politicians.
Aside from what may be a massive legal loophole in one of the strangest social media laws to exist, the legislation and its means of enforcement pose several questions. Although it is also currently unclear if or how politicians that have previously been de-platformed will be impacted by this law (sorry 45, ex-post-facto legislature is a thing) or how exactly Florida plans on enforcing this state mandate short of hiring debt collectors to pound on the doors of the business's (mostly) California-based offices, the bill's attempt to tackle “shadowbanning” further muddies the waters surrounding the Floridian legislation.
Oh-so-precisely defined as “action by a social media platform, through any means, whether the action is determined by a natural person or an algorithm, to limit or eliminate the exposure of a user or content or material posted by a user to other users of the social media platform,” platforms are not allowed to shadowban political figures or websites and must offer those who are shadowbanned a way to opt-out of their status, whatever the hell that means.
Yet in true Floridian fashion, a handful of companies are exempt from the vague, albeit restrictive, confines of this bizarre bill – any “information service, system, internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates” a theme park, an industry which brought more than 70 million tourists to the state in 2018, per literature from the University of Central Florida's hospitality program. According to Republican state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, this exclusion was intentional, ensuring that streaming service Disney+, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, that has historically boosted the state's economy by tens of millions of dollars, "isn’t caught up in this.” Convenient!
Despite the laundry list of hurdles, potential loopholes, discrepancies, and mouse-tastic exemptions, those in favor of the legislation maintain the bill's importance, convinced it will champion the First Amendment. “What this bill is about is sending a loud message to Silicon Valley that they are not the absolute arbiters of truth,” Republican Rep. John Snyder said of the law, per NBC News. “What this bill does is send a loud message that the Constitution does not have an asterisk that says only certain speech is free and protected.”
However, not all experts agree with Snyder's sentiments, with some arguing that this bill could easily serve as a vehicle for hate speech, running contrary to the amendment's intentions. “This bill abandons conservative values, violates the First Amendment, and would force websites to host antisemitic, racist, and hateful content," Carl Szabo, the Vice President of NetChoice, a trade association centered around free speech explained, per USA Today. “Content moderation is crucial to an internet that is safe and valuable for families and Floridian small businesses, but this bill would undermine this important ecosystem.”
Aside from potentially harming the sanctity of our right to freedom of speech, Szabo also argues that the bill, which has been heralded by right-wing lawmakers, would actually hinder conservatives' ability to be heard on social platforms. “No longer limited to a handful of newspapers or networks, conservative messages can now reach billions of people across multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Gab, Parler, Rumble and MeWe,” Szabo recently told state legislators, noting that “conservative speech has never been stronger.” “We’ve seen the rise of conservative voices without having to beg for an op-ed in The Washington Post or New York Times or a speaking slot on CNN. Social networks allow conservative voices to easily find conservative viewers.”
So folks, if you're ever concerned with finding yourself locked out of your social media accounts, come to Florida and enter local politics. The sunshine state has got your back.