Appeals Court Rules Florida Law vs Social Media Is Unconstitutional
A Florida law intended to punish social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter violates the First Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled, dealing a major victory to companies who had been accused by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis of discriminating against conservative thought, Curt Anderson, Mark Sherman, and Brendan Farrington reported for the Associated Press (AP).
Photo Insert: “Put simply, with minor exceptions, the government can’t tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it,” said Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom.
A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously concluded that it was overreach for DeSantis and the Republican-led Florida Legislature to tell the social media companies how to conduct their work under the Constitution’s free speech guarantee.
“Put simply, with minor exceptions, the government can’t tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it,” said Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, in the opinion.
“We hold that it is substantially likely that social media companies — even the biggest ones — are private actors whose rights the First Amendment protects.” The ruling upholds a similar decision by a Florida federal district judge on the law, which was signed by DeSantis in 2021.
It was part of an overall conservative effort to portray social media companies as generally liberal in outlook and hostile to ideas outside of that viewpoint, especially from the political right.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a nonprofit group representing tech and communications companies, said the ruling represents victory for Internet users and free speech in general — especially as it relates to potentially offensive content.
“When a digital service takes action against problematic content on its own site — whether extremism, Russian propaganda or racism, and abuse — it is exercising its own right to free expression,” said CCIA President Matt Schruers in a statement.