Content Moderation

05/27/2021

NetChoice and CCIA Sue Florida: Unconstitutional Social Media Bill Circumvents Rights Afforded Under the First Amendment

Carl Szabo
Carl Szabo Vice President and General Counsel

NetChoice and CCIA Sue Florida For SB 7072’s Unconstitutional Legislation

 

Washington, D.C. (May 27, 2021):  Today, NetChoice and CCIA, sued the State of Florida to enjoin and invalidate SB 7072 to defend the First Amendment and other constitutional rights of private businesses. This lawsuit follows Governor DeSantis’ signing of the law on Monday, May 24th, 2021.

“Americans everywhere should oppose Florida’s attempt to run roughshod over the First Amendment rights of private online businesses,” said Carl Szabo, Vice President and General Counsel of NetChoice. “By weakening the First Amendment rights of some, Florida weakens the First Amendment rights of all.”

“We cannot stand idly by as Florida’s lawmakers push unconstitutional bills into law that bring us closer to state-run media and a state-run internet,” continued Szabo. “The First Amendment protects social media platforms’ right to host and moderate content as they see fit for their business models and users.”

As the lawsuit explains, SB 7072 is a blatant attack on the First Amendment. Not only does it compel private online businesses to host content they’d otherwise remove or restrict, it also gives special treatment to certain speakers like political candidates—even ones who spread unlawful, violent, or hateful content—and threatens severe penalties even when the businesses step in to protect their users or to respond to unforeseen crises.

The law also violates the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Despite the State’s claim that the law is necessary to protect Floridians, the law’s text and lawmakers’ statements reveal that the law’s true purpose is to retaliate against popular online businesses. Consider that the law inexplicably exempts Walt Disney and Comcast—two of Florida’s largest businesses—for no reason other than they own a theme park of at least 25 square miles.

“The law is crony capitalism masquerading as consumer protection. Our lawsuit will stop an attempt by the state of Florida to undermine the First Amendment and force social media sites to carry offensive and harmful political messages,” said Szabo. “Our lawsuit highlights how SB7072 is an egregious attempt by lawmakers to discriminate against certain companies and pick winners and losers while clearly favoring a handful of powerful businesses like Disney and Comcast,” said Szabo.

“By tying the hands of digital services fighting online harms, this law would turn American companies into unwilling tools for bad actors at home and abroad, putting Floridians at risk,” said Matt Schruers, President of the Computer & Communications Industry Association. “Gov. DeSantis is correct that this is a free speech issue: a digital service declining to host content that puts its users at risk is exercising its own First Amendment rights.”

The lawsuit explains that:

  • The Act brazenly infringes and facially violates the First Amendment rights of America’s leading businesses by compelling them to host even highly objectionable content that is not appropriate for all viewers, violates their terms of service, or conflicts with the companies’ policies and beliefs.
  • The Act does not prevent censorship but makes the State the supervisor of online conduct and morals, overriding the community guidelines of online businesses in violation of the First Amendment.
  • The Act further violates the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause by arbitrarily favoring popular and larger businesses like Disney and Universal Studios from its scope simply because they own well-attended “theme parks” while irrationally targeting also popular social media companies for speech restrictions and disfavored governmental treatment.

NetChoice is a trade association of leading e-commerce and online companies promoting the value, convenience, and choice of internet business models. NetChoice’s mission is to make the internet safe for free enterprise and for free expression.

 

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