US appeals court rejects Florida social media law, finds tech giants have First Amendment rights

A US appeals court on Monday blocked controversial Florida law it would prohibit Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites from moderating political speech, kicking political candidates from their platforms, or removing posts from so-called journalistic companies.

In a Ordered Released on Monday, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a Florida judge’s injunction that blocked enforcement of the law passed last year. Enforcement of the law, known as SB 7072, has been put on hold pending challenges from lobbyist Big Tech, NetChoice.

The ruling further entrenches a legal divide over whether First Amendment speech protections can be used to stop social media companies from moderating content as Republican lawmakers accuse Facebook and others of muzzling voices conservative.

In its ruling, the 11th Circuit panel ruled that the First Amendment actually protects the right of social media companies to moderate content as they see fit. Additionally, the court found that Florida law unconstitutionally violates the protected right of social media companies to exercise editorial judgment, through content moderation.

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – 2020/10/14: A man wearing a face mask walks past a Twitter logo outside its headquarters in New York. Facebook and Twitter have taken steps to limit the spread of a controversial New York Post article criticizing Joe Biden, sparking outrage among conservatives and fueling debate about how social media platforms should tackle misinformation ahead of… American elections. (Photo by John Nacion/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“We find it very likely that social media companies — even the largest ones — are ‘private actors’ whose rights are protected by the First Amendment,” the appeals court said. “The State of Florida insists that they are not [private actors]and he has enacted a one-of-a-kind law to combat what some of his supporters see as a concerted effort by Silicon Valley’s “big tech” oligarchs” to “silence” pro-“conservative” rhetoric. of a “radical left” program.'”

The 11th Circuit, in upholding the injunction, is now somewhat at odds with the Texas Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which last week issued a ruling allowing a Texas law limiting moderation to take effect. social media content.

texas law HB 20 requires major platforms like Twitter (TWTR), Facebook and Instagram (FB) of Meta, TikTok and YouTube (GOOG, GOOGL) to publish all user posts that express a “point of view”. Tech lobbyists are challenging the law on the First Amendment and other grounds, and for now they are asking the high court to block the law, after a lower court ruled in a separate injunction request that it was unconstitutional.

NetChoice and Computer and Communications Industry Associationwhich represents dozens of social media, app and other tech companies, including Yahoo, has filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court ask to reverse the decision of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals restoring Texas law.

“The First Amendment protects platforms and their right to moderate content as they see fit — and the government can’t force them to host content they don’t want,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, in a press release. sent to Yahoo Finance. “This makes it even more likely that the United States Supreme Court will reverse the 5th Circuit’s split decision on the similar Texas law.”

Florida’s SB 7072 was signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in May 2021.

In addition to limiting the ability of social media platforms to launch users and prioritize or deprioritize posts from political candidates, this forces companies to offer an unsubscribe feature for users to exempt their accounts from algorithmic sorting. Under the law, covered platforms would be required to provide detailed justification for all content moderation decisions.

Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow Alexis on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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