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Florida lawmakers have done Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' bidding by passing a bill that would forbid social media companies from deplatforming candidates who are running for office. But an exception tossed in the bill to exempt certain major companies like Disney and Comcast highlights the bill's many legal and constitutional issues.
The bill, S.B. 7072, would allow for fines of up to $250,000 per day for candidates for statewide offices, $25,000 a day for lower offices if an online platform refuses to host a candidate. The bill also prohibits shadow banning, the practice of allowing a person to continue using the platform while limiting who can see their posts, for political candidates during their races. There's an exception carved out for obscene content. The bill covers online platforms that have annual gross revenues of at least $100 million or at least 100 million global users.
DeSantis is expected to sign the bill, which is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, but will almost certainly be challenged in court.
The bill is getting the most media attention for this political component, essentially ordering private online tech companies to serve the communication needs of politicians. Critics of the legislation argue it's a violation of the First Amendment rights of tech companies, who have the power to decide whose messages they want to host. The bill attempts to get around this concern by simply declaring that social media companies "should be treated similarly to common carriers" like phone companies, an argument some find compelling.
On April 29, just prior to the bill's passage, its sponsor, state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R–Lee County) amended the bill to exempt any system "operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex." This is clearly a carveout for Disney, whose power to influence legislation in the state is hard to overstate. It will also most certainly cover any site run by cable juggernaut Comcast, which owns the Universal Studios Theme Parks, one of which is also in Orlando.
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