Sep 21, 2022 - Technology

Florida appeals to Supreme Court over controversial social media law

Illustration of a silhouetted scales of justice, with the plates moving up and down.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The question of whether states can regulate what social media companies allow on their platforms is on its way to the Supreme Court.

Driving the news: Florida filed a brief Wednesday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision against its controversial social media law after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit struck it down in May, deeming it unconstitutional.

  • Florida’s law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May 2021, could prevent platforms from removing content from news outlets, allow individuals to sue platforms if they believe content rules aren’t consistently applied and could fine social media services that ban political candidates in the state.
  • The 11th Circuit ruled 3-0 that it violated the First Amendment.

The big picture: States have increasingly been trying their luck at passing social media content laws that control how platforms can moderate content, and the Supreme Court weighing in could put an end to that—or unleash more efforts.

  • Laws in Texas and Florida, two states that have been the flashpoint of this debate, vary in language, but broadly compel platforms to carry speech deemed as "political" or having a "viewpoint." Both states allege unfair censorship of right-leaning content.

What they're saying: "Although we oppose legislation like Florida’s social media law, which threatens the First Amendment and democratic principles, [we agree] that the Supreme Court should resolve issues in this case," Matt Schruers, president of the Communications and Computer Industry Association, one of the groups that's been fighting the law in court, said in a statement.

  • "With state legislatures considering a greater role for governments in online speech, the question of whether a government can compel social media services to disseminate content violating their policies is destined for the Supreme Court.”

Between the lines: Tech groups want the Supreme Court to stop other states from passing similar laws before more state legislatures follow the lead of Florida and Texas. Conflicting circuit court rulings meant the case was bound to end up at the Supreme Court.

  • Texas, which is trying to enact a similar law, had a win last week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the Texas law, HB20, does not violate the First Amendment rights of social media platforms.
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