April 2, 2023

In a petition filed in court on Wednesday, Florida’s attorney general argued that the dominance of major social media platforms and their ability to promote the views of some users above others, meaning judges have an opinion on the issue up to important.

“Whether the First Amendment fundamentally renders the states — and possibly the federal government — unable to meaningfully address these distortions should be answered by this court, now,” the petition said.

At the heart of the court battle is a Florida law, SB 7072, that allows political candidates to sue social media companies if they are blocked or removed from platforms for more than 14 days.

Opponents representing the tech industry have sued to block the law, saying it violates the First Amendment rights of private companies. A federal appeals court agreed with that reasoning earlier this year, leading Florida to ask the Supreme Court to intervene this week.

If SB 7072 survives legal challenges, tech companies could be forced to host spam, hate speech and other legal but questionable material on their platforms, mainstream legal experts say. It could also rewrite decades of First Amendment precedent that barred the government from forcing private groups to give speeches, they said.

In a statement Wednesday, NetChoice, one of the challengers to the Florida law, welcomed the Florida petition.

“We agree that the U.S. Supreme Court in Florida should hear this case, and we believe First Amendment rights will be upheld,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice. “We look forward to seeing Florida in court and Uphold the lower court’s decision. We have 200 years of precedent.”

A few days ago, another federal appeals court upheld a similar law in Texas that allows social media users to sue platforms if they take actions to “block, ban, delete, de-platform, de-monetize, de-platform, de-monetize, de- Elevate, restrict, deny equal access or visibility, or otherwise discriminate against expression.” (In May, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Texas law from taking effect, while the lawsuit continues.)

The 5th Circuit’s decision to uphold the Texas law last week contrasts with a ruling by the 11th Circuit earlier this year that ruled Florida’s law unconstitutional — creating a circuit appeal that brought the Supreme Court more likely to intervene.

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