As you've no doubt heard by now, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a Big Tech "censorship" bill into law on May 24, 2021, boasting that it provides, at long last, a defense against Silicon Valley banning conservatives from social media. At least in Florida. From the Orlando Sentinel:
The law would slap daily fines of $100,000 on Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Amazon for each statewide political candidate removed from their platforms, and $10,000 a day for other candidates.
Other users must be notified when they’re banned or censored, including when a warning or other notice of false or disputed information is attached to their posts. Users also have the ability to sue companies for violating the law.
A provision of the bill, however, exempts companies that own a theme park, such as Walt Disney Co., which runs Disney+, a streaming service.
Since theme parks are such big business
in Florida, the exemption for companies that own them is
understandable from a strictly capitalistic perspective, but not
from a perspective that has anything to do with free speech or
moral principles or any of the other factors that contemporary
republicans like to posture about. But even from a capitalistic
perspective it's nonsensical in light of the fact that it will
probably sabotage efforts by local governments to woo tech firms
to Florida. Oops.
Here is a link to a page that provides links to everything you could possibly want to know about the history of Senate Bill 7072 (which apparently began life, appropriately enough, on April Fool's Day). Here's a link to a PDF of the text of the bill.
Over the past few years I've written numerous blog posts about the rantings and ravings of right-wing nuts who whine that they're being censored because of their "conservatism" -- f'rinstance, Scamworld hucksters like cancer quack/right-wing fanatic/predator Leonard Coldwell; lunatic rabble-rousers like Alex Jones or Mike "The Health Ranger" Adams; politicians like California's Devin Nunes, or the bastard children of Scamworld and politix such as Donald Trump and Junior.
All of these folks have spent a great deal of time snowflaking about being censored and persecuted and even death-threated because they're bold and fearless "truth tellers" and because the entire social media universe is in a conspiracy against "conservative voices." It's a given that if you're a republican or self-styled conservative these daze, you have a persecution complex that's bigger than Trump's butt in a pair of tennis shorts.
So it's no surprise that in the lead-up to the signing into law of the Florida bill, right-wing republicans from across the country were engaged in their usual moaning and pearl-clutching about being "censored" on tyrannical social media platforms. On May 6, 2021, one of my favorite bloggers and Facebook posters, Jim Wright, mused on the utter hypocrisy of the repubs' complaints.
Right Wing congresswoman Elise Stefanik [New York] is mad. Mad! Raging mad. Because her communications director was (briefly) suspended from Twitter.
"Republicans are united in fighting back against Big Tech’s tyranny?"
Something has to be done about this tyranny ... of an automated system briefly flagging an obscure functionary with 24 followers and then restoring the account a few hours later -- like pretty much every poor proletarian who's ever used social media.
Give me unrestricted Twitter or give me death!
Republicans are united in fighting against this tyranny!
Republicans. Yes, Republicans are united against the tyranny of big ... business?
The same 256 congressional Republicans who VOTED AGAINST NET NEUTRALITY and DELIBERATELY gave the very same big tech companies the power to decide who could and could not access the internet?
Are THOSE the Republicans united against Big Tech's tyranny?
The same "tyranny" they very specifically GAVE those very same companies?
The VERY SAME REPUBLICANS who are "on the march" currently passing laws in a multiple states making freedom of speech and the right to protest illegal in direct violation of the 1st Amendment?
Are those the republicans we're talking about here? The VERY SAME REPUBLICANS led by Ron DeSantis who just just passed draconian anti-voting laws in Florida this very morning and barred the press from access to the signing?
Is THAT one of the Republicans we're talking about? The VERY SAME REPUBLICANS who handed Big Tech billionaires a massive tax giveaway? And who rewarded the very same companies they're now complaining about with massive tax breaks? The same Republicans who said those companies were PEOPLE with more rights than actual people? The VERY SAME REPUBLICANS who side with billionaires and corporations and banks over ACTUAL AMERICAN CITIZENS every fucking day?
Are those the Republicans we're talking about?
I mean, godDAMN! Tell me more about these Republicans who are fighting Big Tech, standing up for the little guy, the average citizen.
Let's hear about THOSE Republicans.
Man, I love THAT fucking fairy tale.
That's about the size of it.
But hypocrisy hasn't stopped right-wing nutcakes from celebrating the Florida bill as a win. And some apparently can't wait to start suing those big tech companies, since the law allows individuals to take their grievances to court.
Well, I hate to rain on anyone's parade... no, I don't. I love doing that, at least if it's a fascist parade... but anyway, this bill is almost certainly unconstitutional. The wonderful Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for free speech and equal access online, explains the constitutional flaws of the bill in this May 5 piece, posted a little over two weeks before DeSantis signed it into law. Following a brief history lesson regarding a similar-in-spirit bill from nearly 50 years ago, the writer nails the real reason for the current legislation.
...you might wonder why the Florida Legislature would pass a law doomed to failure, costing the state the time and expense of defending it in court. Politics, of course. The legislators who passed this bill probably knew it was unconstitutional, but may have seen political value in passing the base-pleasing statute, and blaming the courts when it gets struck down.
Politics is also the reason for the much-ridiculed exception for theme park owners. It’s actually a problem for the law itself. As the Supreme Court explained in Florida Star v BJF, carve-outs like this make the bill even more susceptible to a First Amendment challenge as under-inclusive. Theme parks are big business in Florida, and the law’s definition of social media platform would otherwise fit Comcast (which owns Universal Studios' theme parks), Disney, and even Legoland. Performative legislation is less politically useful if it attacks a key employer and economic driver of your state. The theme park exception has also raised all sorts of amusing possibilities for the big internet companies to address this law by simply purchasing a theme park, which could easily be less expensive than compliance, even with the minimum 25 acres and 1 million visitors/year. Much as Section 230 Land would be high on my own must-visit list, striking the law down is the better solution.
The EFF piece acknowledges, as I have myself in
previous blog posts, that there are real issues that need to be
tackled regarding Big Tech's control over public conversation. I
think most of us have experienced firsthand the confusion and
frustration of being arbitrarily warned, suspended, or even
banned by one of the social media platforms for a minor or
accidental infraction, when others continue to get away with
posting offensive or hateful or bigoted or threatening content.
Or maybe, like me, you've reported offensive or threatening
content to the platform and have been informed that it doesn't
violate their community standards.
Long-time readers of this blog may recall that a few years ago, I was receiving harassing messages and emails as a direct result of a series of Facebook screeds posted by the notorious Leonard Coldwell, in which he falsely accused me of killing his favorite dog (!). He published my home address and cell phone number, the latter of which he could only have gotten from a mutual former friend of ours, or from an inquiry I had sent to the Mount Pleasant, SC police department regarding a police report about Coldwell (I never received a response from the PD, but later found out that my inquiry, address and all, became part of that report).
Along with the doxxing, Coldwell openly invited his followers to get in touch with me directly and let me know exactly what they thought about my vicious act. It was his lame and cowardly attempt to silence me, by inciting his followers to do his dirty work for him, because he was angry about the blog posts I had written about his quackery, scams, and general awfulness.
People were threatening to burn down my house in the middle of the night, and they were holding public discussions on Coldwell's Facebook page about all of the things that should be done to me as punishment for killing the dog -- shooting me, poisoning me, slowly torturing me to death...oh, yes, I got to read all of those sick and twisted fantasies posted by the sick and twisted followers of a sick and twisted man. Coldwell also posted some graphically detailed -- and false -- allegations about me sexually harassing him. I was blocked from participating on his forums so I couldn't even defend myself.
I reported these posts to Facebook... and Facebook said the posts didn't violate their community standards. Nice. Ultimately most of the posts were taken down, but some still remain.
So yeah, there's a lot that needs to be worked out with the tech giants; they do need to be reined in. A good starting place: The Santa Clara Principles On Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation, which the EFF and numerous other non-profits came up with a few years ago. It's a reasonable basic guideline.
But unconstitutional laws like Florida's SB 7072 that pander to right-wing lunatics and whiners are not the answer to this problem that affects every one of us -- conservative, liberal, or apolitical.