Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and close Trump ally who asked for the bill’s approval, is supposed to sign the legislation into law, but the proposal seems intended to be challenged in court after a tech industry trade group called it a violation of the First Amendment speech rights of corporations.
Republicans have been attacking Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other tech companies for banning Trump and other conservatives from their platforms after violations of the companies’ rules, including suspensions on alleged incitement of violence related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Republicans have called social media bans unjust moderation, and this month Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas came close to agreeing, writing in an opinion that legislators could be explained if they passed laws requiring social media to carry all views.
The Florida bill would prohibit social media companies from intentionally “deplatforming” political candidates, meaning a service could not “permanently delete or ban” a candidate. Suspensions of up to 14 days would still be allowed, and a service could remove individual posts that violate its terms of service.
The state's elections commission would be authorized to fine a social media company $250,000 a day for statewide candidates and $25,000 a day for other candidates if a company's actions are determined to violate the law, which also claims the companies to give information about takedowns and apply rules regularly. The suggested fines were reduced in the original bill, but on Tuesday the Florida state House raised them in an amendment.
Florida Republican lawmakers have mentioned tech companies' wide power over speech as a cause for the increased moderation.
"What this bill is about is sending a loud message to Silicon Valley that they are not the absolute arbiters of truth," state Rep. John Snyder, a Republican from the Port St. Lucie area, said Wednesday.
"What this bill does is send a loud message that the Constitution does not have an asterisk that says only certain speech is free and protected," he said.
The Florida House voted 77-38 in support of the bill, the Senate, 23-17.
Facebook and other social media services have long, often elaborate rulebooks for governing what's allowed on their platforms, which the companies regulate as private forums. But as more political speech has moved online, enforcing those rules consistently and without major pushback has become a constant challenge.