By Elizabeth Culliford
(Reuters) – Two tech trade groups filed a lawsuit against Florida on Thursday over a new law that would fine social media companies that ban political candidates, which they said violated free speech rights.
The lawsuit, which said the bill signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday was unconstitutional, was filed by internet lobbying groups NetChoice and Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA). The groups’ members include Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google.
“We cannot stand idly by as Florida’s lawmakers push unconstitutional bills into law that bring us closer to state-run media and a state-run internet,” said NetChoice’s Vice President Carl Szabo. “The First Amendment protects social media platforms’ right to host and moderate content as they see fit for their business models and users.”
Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for Republican DeSantis, said the governor’s office had no comment on any specific lawsuit but that it had anticipated legal challenges and was confident the legislation had a “strong legal basis.”
“Big Tech is in some ways more powerful than government, and certainly less accountable. Free speech is a sacred right for all Americans,” she said.
Former President Donald Trump, also a Republican, remains blocked on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube after the platforms banned or suspended him over risks of further violence following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by some of his supporters. The ban added to Republicans’ long-standing accusations that online platforms censor content due to anti-conservative bias.
Florida is the first state to regulate how social media companies moderate online speech. The new law would also make it easier for Florida’s attorney general and others in the state to sue the tech companies over claims that platforms have imposed content moderation on users unfairly or inconsistently.
It has been criticized by internet law experts as unconstitutional and as pre-empted by Section 230, a federal law that shields online companies from liability over content posted by users.
The law exempts companies that own and operate a “theme park or entertainment venue” of more than 25 acres, such as Disney’s theme park in the state.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; editing by Grant McCool)