Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney’s public disagreements on state policy are bringing up important discussions regarding Florida’s currently struck down content-moderation law.
Inserted into Florida’s recent special session to address congressional redistricting was an unrelated measure — Florida Senate Bill 6-C (SB 6-C), which repeals a carveout tucked into Florida Senate Bill 7072 (SB 7072), a law passed last year to crack down on tech companies’ content-moderation techniques.
SB 7072 dictates when a platform can remove or “censor” Florida users, bans the suspension of posts by political candidates and implements a requirement for companies to publicly publish their content moderation practices. SB 7072 also gives individual users and the state the right to sue companies over violations and outlines exorbitant fines to be enforced and collected by the state. Essentially, the law would erase the ability for companies to decide for themselves what speech is or isn’t allowed on their own platforms and holds the companies directly responsible for content posted by third parties.
The original bill, signed into law by DeSantis, had a carveout for companies that owned amusement parks. By removing the carveout, Disney would now be held to the law’s hefty regulations and costly requirements due to its streaming service, Disney Plus, and the number of Floridians who store information in Disney accounts.
However, the major flaw to DeSantis’ special-session amendment is that the law SB 6-C amends has already been held as unconstitutional, and still has not taken effect due to being challenged in federal court.
Before SB 7072 was slated to take effect, the law was subjected to preliminary injunction by federal Judge Robert Hinkle, who held:
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“The First Amendment applies to speech over the internet, just as it applies to more traditional forms of communication… Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest. And even aside from the actual motivation for this legislation, it is plainly content-based and subject to strict scrutiny… The legislation does not survive strict scrutiny. Parts also are expressly preempted by federal law.”
The law’s attempt to regulate private companies’ censorship techniques faced strict scrutiny in court and was enjoined for breaching the First Amendment. Removing the carveout for theme parks, which predominantly affects Disney, does not change the constitutionality of SB 7072.
As Computer and Communications Industry Association President Matt Schruers stated, “this law is wrong not because the Legislature carved out a once-favored Florida company, but because the government has no business dictating what speech private businesses must host.”
SB 7072 remains unconstitutional and contains serious legal flaws that may ensure it never becomes law in the state. And yet, the Florida Legislature spent valuable and important time forcing SB 6-C through. It passed through the legislature by a 70-38 vote with majority of Democrats expressing serious opposition due to the bills’ unintended economic consequences and DeSantis’ overreach.
Florida is — and has always been — a state of both great potential and great action. Florida has a lot to offer its current and future residents and as Floridians, we have a lot to be proud of — small businesses and entrepreneurs in every corner of our state who help boost our economy, world-class higher-education systems, some of the highest ranked achievements in K-12 education, well-performing infrastructure and more.
Florida is more than just a vacation destination. I urge our leaders to stay focused on the issues that matter to Floridians and encourage them to continue to ensure Florida remains the best place in the nation to live, work, learn and play.
Julio Fuentes is the President and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.