WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – Florida on Monday (May 24) became the first state to regulate how companies such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter moderate speech online, by imposing fines on social media companies that permanently bar political candidates in the state.
The new law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, is a direct response to Facebook’s and Twitter’s bans of former President Donald Trump in January. In addition to the fines for barring candidates, it makes it illegal to prevent some news outlets from posting to their platforms in response to the contents of their stories.
Mr DeSantis said signing the bill, which is likely to face a constitutional challenge, meant that Floridians would be “guaranteed protection against the Silicon Valley elites”.
“If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable,” he said in a statement.
The bill is part of a broader push among conservative state legislatures to crack down on the ability of tech companies to manage posts on their platforms. The political efforts took off after Trump was barred after the Jan 6 attack on the Capitol. Lawmakers around the country have echoed Trump’s accusations that the companies are biased against conservative personalities and publications, even though those accounts often thrive online.
Twitter declined to comment. Google and Facebook did not immediately offer comments on the signing of the bill.
The Florida law makes it illegal to bar a candidate for state office for more than 14 days, in a move that would seem to outlaw the kind of permanent ban the social media platforms applied to Trump’s accounts.
Companies would be fined US$250,000 (S$331,000) a day for cases where they barred a candidate for statewide office. The fine is lower for candidates seeking other offices.
The law says the platforms cannot take down or otherwise prioritise content from a “journalistic enterprise” that reaches a certain size. Conservatives were outraged last year when Facebook and Twitter limited the reach of a New York Post article about the contents of a laptop it said belonged to Hunter Biden, the younger son of President Joe Biden.