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Judge blocks Florida's social media law

The bill is "riddled with imprecision and ambiguity"

Judge gavel on a law book

Just one day before a controversial anti-big-tech bill was due to become law in Florida, a federal judge has blocked it as unconstitutional. 

The bill, SB 7072, was due to come into effect today. However, federal district court judge Robert Hinkle granted a preliminary injunction against it on Wednesday, arguing it was likely to contravene the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. 

The bill banned internet companies from suspending political candidates' accounts, imposing penalties of up to $250,000 per day for violations. It also stopped social media platforms from prioritizing the visibility of posts in ways that it saw as unfair. 

The only exceptions to these rules were firms that also owned theme parks.

Technology advocacy groups criticized the law, calling it unconstitutional. Technology industry associations NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association sued the state immediately after Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill in May. 

In his opinion granting the injunction, Hinkle warned that the legislation "compels providers to host speech that violates their standards - speech they otherwise would not host - and forbids providers from speaking as they otherwise would." 

He added that stopping a company from deplatforming a candidate in good faith based on objectionable content contravenes Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, echoing concerns bought by the plaintiffs. 

Hinkle criticized the bill for failing to define many terms or defining them too broadly, calling it "riddled with imprecision and ambiguity." 

For example, its definition of political candidates set "a low bar," Hinkle said, while its definition of "journalistic enterprise" could include a large retailer but exclude a small newspaper. 

Disney, which operates in theme parks in Florida and would have been exempt from SB 7072, didn't get off the hook either. Hinkle said the definition of social media provider applied to companies "smaller than the providers covered by the statutes and those under common ownership with a large theme park." 

"The legislation now at issue was an effort to rein in social-media providers deemed too large and too liberal," the opinion concluded. "Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest." 

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