After tech groups file lawsuit, Gov. DeSantis defends his social media crackdown

By: - May 28, 2021 12:03 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis, responding to litigation against his legal crackdown on Big Tech, argues the companies are abusing their power.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office has issued a rebuttal to the technology industry’s lawsuit attacking a new law that attempts to rein in social media platforms, in which he argues that citizens need protection against their “abusive, discriminatory, and/or deceptive business practices.”

“The bottom line is: Big Tech is in some ways more powerful than government, and certainly less accountable,” the statement reads.

“Free speech is a sacred right for all Americans. It is recognized that government has a role in protecting consumers against discrimination and deceptive/unfair trade practices, and this law is within that authority to rein in a powerful entity that oversteps individuals’ free speech rights.”

The office declined to comment on the lawsuit’s specifics, but said the governor had anticipated the law would draw litigation.

“We are confident that this new legislation has a strong legal basis and protects Floridians’ constitutional rights,” the statement reads.

Two industry groups — NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association — filed a complaint Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida against state plaintiffs including DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, alleging violations of the First and Fourteenth amendments and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

DeSantis and legislative leaders proposed the measure in  February, after platforms kicked out Donald Trump for promoting the conspiracy theory that he’d been cheated out of reelection.

The lawsuit argues the law would punish companies for declining to host or deny prominence to “even highly objectionable or illegal content, no matter how much that content may conflict with their terms or policies.”

DeSantis’ office replied:

“Constitutional protections are not a one-way street. On the contrary, there is a delicate balance in ensuring that citizens and businesses alike are protected against government overreach, but also, that all consumers are protected against abusive, discriminatory, and/or deceptive business practices.

“Social media companies claim that they are not ‘publishers’ but neutral platforms; users therefore expect that the terms of service would be applied equally, without regard to political affiliation or ideology.

“However, this is not the case. Big Tech companies enforce their own terms of service inconsistently. They discriminate along political and ideological lines. Regular people are silenced for questioning Silicon Valley orthodoxy … . On the other hand, those who elevate preferred narratives freely use Big Tech platforms to spread disinformation and hate.”

As an example, the statement says platforms “censored” posts about the “lab leak” theory of COVID — a theory that recently has gained some credence, according to reports including this one from NPR.

At the same time, it continues, the Chinese embassy in the United States was allowed to boast on Twitter about forced sterilization of Uighur women and Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei to tweet endorsements of “genocide of Jews.”

The statement does not mention that Twitter locked the embassy’s account in January in light of the offending tweet, as reported by organizations including CNBC.

The statement appears to refer to the Iranian’ leaders posts calling for “armed resistance” by Palestinians against Israel — read in Israel as encouraging terrorism — although he stressed in one message that he wasn’t calling for the “massacre” of Jews, according to a report by the Times of Israel.

The statement compared social media policies to Russian banks’ denial of services to dissident Alexei Navalny — “they do Putin’s bidding to deplatform Putin’s high-profile opponents,” it says. That happened in September, the BBC reported.

“Moreover, Big Tech lobbyists continue to be in bed with congressional and state legislators to avoid regulation and possible antitrust actions,” it says.

The Federal Trade Commission and a number of states, including Florida, are engaged in antitrust investigations against Facebook and Google.

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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.