Getting ‘deplatformed’ could mean big bucks in fines for social media companies; Legislature approves bill

By: - April 29, 2021 9:27 pm

State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia explains an amendment to legislation targeting social media companies on April 29, 2021. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Donald Trump got kicked off social media services and now the Florida Legislature has done something about it.

On the second-to-last day of the 2021 session, GOP lawmakers pushed through legislation Thursday that would impose substantial fines for such actions against political candidates and everyday Floridians. The bill now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.

The House and Senate had spent a few days haggling over the final details, but the House voted, 77-38, to send the bill for the governor’s signature. The Senate had OK’d the measure, 23-17, earlier.

The final language shortens the threshold for when a user could be considered deplaformed — that is, considered kicked off a social media service — from 60 days to 14. Senate sponsor Ray Rodrigues, a Republican from Lee County, noted that last year the final election campaign lasted just 56 days, between Labor Day and Nov. 3.

It also carves out an exemption for “any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex” spanning at least 25 contiguous acres and attracting more than 1 million visitors annually.

House sponsor Blaise Iglogia, a Republican from Hernando County, explained that the idea was to allow The Walt Disney Co. to police comments on its Disney+ streaming platform, on the theory that all of the programming is created in-house.

He conceded under questioning by Democrat Anna Eskamani of Orange County that Facebook, for example, would qualify for the same exemption if it takes controlling interest of a Florida theme park.

“It feeds into the fact that this bill really is political in nature — it’s not about trying to impact the concern about deplatforming. Now it’s catering to a specific company,” she said.

The bill’s real target always has been services like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, which cast out Trump following the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection kicked up by weeks of lies about how the election had been stolen from him. DeSantis made that clear in calling for the legislation in early February.

Under the measure (SB 7072), private citizens will be able to sue Twitter, Facebook, and other sites in state courts and collect as much as $25,000 for every day that a site kicked them off, deleted a post, or used its algorithms to limit exposure to their posts.

Candidates could seek penalties of up to $250,000 if they’re seeking statewide office and $25,000 for other office seekers, per day. The state’s attorney general could seek those amounts through lawsuits filed under Florida’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The bill will allow social media users to opt out of a platform’s algorithms in determining what appears highest on their feed. Instead, they could demand the platforms feed them posts in order of the time they were written.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.