U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida (Tallahassee Division) Wednesday granted a preliminary injunction against Florida’s new social media law FL SB 7072 which, among other things, mandated social media companies to publish detailed standards for censorship, shadow banning, and removal from the platform of users. It also required that these standards be applied consistently and that users be informed of changes to rules, conditions and agreements prior to the implementation of those changes.
The lawsuit was filed by professional social media associations NetChoice LLC and Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA). They argued that the law violated the First Amendment’s free speech clause “by interfering with the editorial judgment of suppliers, compelling speech and banning speech.”
Justice Hinkle held that while social media platforms are not entirely distinguishable from newspapers or other mainstream media for the purposes of the First Amendment, they continue to exercise editorial control and voice, thus subjecting the Florida law under First Amendment consideration.
The law contains restrictions on speech based on point of view and content that are subject to strict scrutiny in accordance with a precedent such as Reed v. City of Gilbert, Arizona. To pass scrutiny, the speech interference must have a compelling state interest and must be “narrowly tailored” to the realization of that interest. Justice Hinkle noted that the state of Florida is unlikely to succeed in establishing the same, not only because leveling the playing field for the exchange of ideas between private actors is not a legitimate government interest, but also because the restrictions in the law itself are akin to “burning the house to roast a pig”.
Thus, he ruled that plaintiffs are likely to prevail over the merits of their claim and if they do not receive a preliminary injunction, they will face irreparable prejudice to their First Amendment rights.
CCIA and NetChoice welcomed the court decision, with CCIA’s Matt Schruers saying it’s “a win for internet users and the First Amendment,” and NetChoice’s Steve DelBianco to say it “Protects private companies from the state’s demand that social media disseminate messages from users that violate their community’s standards.” “
The ruling barred SB 7072 from coming into effect on July 1, 2021. If Florida Governor Ron DeSantis decides to appeal the ruling, this matter will be referred to the Eleventh Circuit.