Bill targeting social media passes Senate

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TALLAHASSEE – In one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top priorities of the legislative session, the Florida Senate on Monday passed a measure to crack down on social-media companies that remove users from their platforms.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 22-17, along almost straight party lines, to approve the proposal (SB 7072), which now will go to the House.

DeSantis has made a priority of the issue after decisions by Twitter and Facebook to block former President Donald Trump from their platforms in January after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to prevent certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.

The bill, in part, would bar social-media companies from removing political candidates from the companies’ platforms. Companies that violate the prohibition could face fines of $100,000 a day for statewide candidates and $10,000 a day for other candidates.

The proposal also would require social-media companies to publish standards about issues such as blocking users and apply the standards consistently.

Pointing to the dominance of a handful of technology companies, such as Amazon, Facebook and Google, bill sponsor Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said “big tech is not a free market” and that the state has a role in regulating such companies.

“When the battle is between a monopoly on one side and hard-working Americans on the other, the right side of history has always been on the side of the people,” Rodrigues said. “It has never been on the side of the monopolies, not in this country.”

But Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who joined Democrats in voting against the bill, said the measure is unconstitutional and that it is a “big government bill.”

“This is a bill you would see in countries that we don’t want to talk about, some that are 90 miles south of here and some that are a little further south,” Brandes said, alluding in part to Cuba. “It makes me uncomfortable that we have to have this conversation.”

Democrats also suggested that the bill is politically motivated. DeSantis is a close Trump ally, and many Republicans were outraged when the former president was blocked from social-media platforms.

“We know this bill is as much about political messaging as anything,” Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point said.

But Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said people have exercised free speech on social media and that platforms “arbitrarily” shut down the expression.

“When you get to a situation where a business has a monopoly on a message, and the ability to direct a message though that monopoly, that is where government kind of sometimes comes in and steps in,” she said. “I think this bill is trying to strike that right balance, by allowing free speech, and at the same time trying to make sure the business is not arbitrarily setting up that speech and blocking out people that they don’t want in.”

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