Carl Szabo, Your Turn Published 6:01 a.m. ET June 11, 2021
Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 7072, his “anti-bias” law, in a move designed to fire a major volley at America’s leading businesses and rally the “America first” base. By juxtaposing heartfelt stories about the dangers of authoritarianism with a bill capitalizing on the anti-tech fervor and alleged anti-conservative bias online, DeSantis painted a picture of a humble bill meant to protect Florida citizens’ free speech online.
Unfortunately, the social media bill will restrict, not bolster, free speech online. We could not stand idly by as the government requires private parties to host speech that goes against their chosen guidelines, potentially ruining that service for users and businesses alike.
For this reason, we took the step to challenge SB 7072 on multiple constitutional grounds to protect Florida consumers, small businesses and free speech.
Background: GOP-controlled Florida Legislature approves elections overhaul, social media crackdown
Contrary to anti-tech narrative, removing content from the internet is not a “new rule” or “loophole” invented by the “oligarchs of Silicon Valley” to “censor conservative voices.” If a website allowed everything to be posted – whether it violated its terms and conditions, as SB 7072 advocates seem to want – the internet would be saturated with worst it offers, including scams, pornography, hate speech and misinformation. That’s why social media businesses work to control the spread of harmful content online – to ensure the internet is safe and enjoyable for their online communities, including parents, Republicans and Democrats alike.
But when implemented, SB 7072 will require social media to allow the hateful, antisemitic and otherwise harmful content they typically remove to survive on their platforms. Not only will this destroy our online experience, this law blatantly violates the First Amendment by compelling private actors to host speech they disagree with.
The First Amendment doesn’t just protect your right to speak – it also protects your right not to speak. And the government cannot force any business to host content that offends it. SB 7072’s compelled government speech not only violates the text and intent of our founders, it makes us more like the very authoritarian regimes our country stands against.
The sad truth is, Florida’s law has nothing to do with helping consumers or protecting their rights online. In a free country, businesses and consumers should oversee their own day-to-day decisions. They should not have those decisions policed by an overzealous government trying to advance its own interests.
SB 7072 would bring us one step closer to a state-run internet, where the government decides who may speak and on what terms.
The dangerous consequences resulting from this law are not lost on its supporters. Theme park owners like Disney and Universal were evidently concerned about the impact of the law on their own businesses – and then had themselves exempted from it. But if some of the biggest media companies in the world, Disney and Universal, should not bear the burden of complying with such a harmful law, why should everyone else?
Florida’s businesses and technology companies have worked hard to create a safe internet, free from harmful and downright offensive content. SB 7072 is nothing more than a political move to garner national support from those upset with Donald Trump’s removal from digital platforms.
As leaders of free expression, we hope the courts will work to uphold our First Amendment, while adhering to the principles laid down by America’s founders.
Carl Szabo is vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, the chief plaintiff in NetChoice and CCIA v. Moody.
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