Big Tech Presses Court on Florida’s Section 230 Law

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Computer companies and edge providers are telling a U.S. Appeals Court that a lower-court judge was right when he blocked implementation of Florida’s content moderation law, concluding it was unconstitutional, and that it should come to the same conclusion.

Also read: Big Tech Sues Florida Over Sec. 230 Law

The Computer and Communications Industry Association and NetChoice teamed up on a brief this week to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is hearing Florida's challenge to the lower-court judge’s ruling.

They told the appeals court that the law would allow anyone “from a foreign government spreading propaganda to those spreading terrorist content” to sue a platform if it didn’t host their material.

“The District Court properly enjoined Florida’s unprecedented effort to strip online service providers of their constitutionally protected editorial judgment and replace it with the state’s own judgments and preferences,” the brief asserted. “Florida did not conceal the motivation for its novel law: to target certain large online service providers for exercising their editorial judgment in a manner that the state disfavors.”

The law was the product of a Republican-controlled legislature. Republicans have argued that Silicon Valley giants have attempted to suppress conservative speech in the guise of moderating their platforms and under the protection of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which exempts them with civil liability over most of that third-party content.

Asserting that “social media platforms have unfairly censored, shadow-banned, deplatformed and applied post-prioritization algorithms to Floridians,” the law presumes that doing so is not acting in bad faith, which means it is legally actionable. The law removes civil liability protection for content on Big Tech platforms — like Facebook or Twitter — that violates the law, including allowing for monetary damages up to $250,000 per day for deplatforming political candidates for statewide office, and $25,000 for non-statewide offices.

CCIA and NetChoice, whose membership also includes companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon, sued the state, saying that the law would open platforms to suits for content moderation policies designed to protect users’ safety. After the judge agreed to block the law as unconstitutional, Florida challenged that decision in the 11th Circuit.

“Digital services invest in protecting Internet users from dangerous and harmful content and behavior, whether it is extremists glorifying violence against Americans or trolls promoting self-harm, and a federal court has already agreed with us that Florida’s law would thwart those efforts,” CCIA said. “Policymakers shouldn’t guarantee safe spaces online for anti-American extremists, predators, or foreign agents spreading misinformation.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.