Federal judge finds Florida social media law likely violates free speech


A 3D printed Facebook logo is displayed in front of the Twitter logo, in this illustration taken on October 25, 2017. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration

June 30 (Reuters) – A federal judge on Wednesday blocked a recently enacted Florida law that sought to allow the state to penalize social media companies when they ban political candidates, with the judge saying the law likely violated freedom expression.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee issued a preliminary injunction blocking application of the law, which was due to go into effect Thursday.

“This order preliminary directs the application of those parts of the law that are preempted or violate the First Amendment,” the judge said in the order filed with the United States District Court for the Northern District of the Florida.

“Complainants are likely to prevail over the merits of their claim that these laws violate the First Amendment,” Hinkle wrote. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees citizens the right to free speech.

Two tech trade groups filed a lawsuit against Florida in May over the new law. Read more

The lawsuit said the bill signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, in May was unconstitutional. It was tabled by Internet lobby groups NetChoice and Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA). Group members include Facebook (FB.O), Twitter (TWTR.N) and Alphabet (GOOGL.O) Google.

Florida was to be the first state to regulate how social media companies moderate online speech. The new law would have made it easier for the Florida attorney general and others in the state to prosecute tech companies over allegations that platforms have imposed content moderation on users unfairly or inconsistently.

The law has been criticized by internet law experts as unconstitutional and anticipated by Section 230, a federal law that protects online businesses from liability for content posted by users.

Former President Donald Trump, also a Republican, was blocked on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube after platforms banned or suspended him due to risks of further violence following the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by some of his supporters. The ban added to long-standing accusations by Republicans that online platforms censor content because of anti-conservative biases.

Report by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill

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