Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law Monday that prohibits social media platforms from “willfully deplatforming a candidate” during an election, adding fuel to the conflict between Republicans and the tech industry.
Under SB 7072, the Transparency in Technology Act (TITA), social media companies must provide political candidates a platform or “method by which the user may be identified as a qualified candidate,” and social media providers are prohibited from deplatforming or otherwise banning candidates for longer than 14 days.
TITA includes a prohibition on “shadow bans,” which are defined as any attempt to “limit or eliminate the exposure of … material posted” by the candidate, either purposefully or through the use of an algorithm. The bill also bans the deplatforming of “journalistic enterprises,” which are defined as publications with more than 50,000 paid subscribers or 100,000 monthly active users. Violations can carry a fine of up to $250,000 per day.
DeSantis framed TITA as a promotion of free speech and “protection against Silicon Valley elites.” Lieutenant-Governor Jeanette Nuñez said that “Florida is taking back the virtual public square where information and ideas can flow freely,” citing a fear of being “silenced” by running “contrary to [big tech’s] radical leftist narrative.”
Advocates for the tech industry and First Amendment rights were quick to point out discrepancies. Facebook relaxed misinformation rules for conservative pages on their platform in response to complaints from right-leaning outlets last year. Corbin Barthold and Berin Szóka, Internet Policy Counsel and President of TechFreedom, a technology law and policy think-tank based in Washington, said in an article that TITA “would trample on private companies’ First Amendment right to exercise editorial discretion” and supposed that TITA could have the inverse effect of suppressing political speech.
Advocates also point out a 1974 case called Miami Herald Publishing CO. v. Tornillo, where a similar Florida statute granting political candidates a right to equal space in news-print publications violated the publisher’s guarantees of a free press and was struck down by the Supreme Court.
As DeSantis and other proponents of TITA argue today, proponents of the impugned legislation in Tornillo argued that there is an active abuse of power by publishers through controlling the flow of information, and that the public deserves to hear all sides of the debate. However, the Supreme Court held that coercion was not the appropriate remedy, finding government coercion to publish was as much an infringement as government censorship. The decision has since been consistently applied as binding.