'Equally Violative of the First Amendment': CCIA Says of Florida, Texas Censorship Bills

'Equally Violative of the First Amendment': CCIA Says of Florida, Texas Censorship Bills

Jackson Bakich
Jackson Bakich
May 23, 2024

The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) has taken its censorship case to the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the constitutionality of state legislation such as Florida’s SB 7072 and Texas’ HB 20.

The CCIA believes those legislative measures enable “government interference into speech.”

In short, Florida’s bill does not allow big tech companies to moderate their content or their users’ speech – the provision that CCIA argues violates the First Amendment.

Both parties are attempting to curb speech suppression but in different ways. CCIA argues that private companies should not have to listen to the government’s demands to compel their speech or change their community guidelines to allow all speech on their platform.

For instance, CCIA argues that if the government calls on a private social media platform such as Instagram to put out an alert on their app to wear a mask, they should not have to comply. Additionally (this is the case of the Florida bill), if a user on Instagram’s platform says something that goes against the rules set forth by the app, CCIA argues that the app should not have to withhold their discipline of the user because the law requires it.

CCIA President Matt Schruers described this situation during an online press conference on Thursday.

“What this case asks is whether or not it is the government’s place to say what lawful speech can or cannot be communicated by a digital service and our contention, and that of our co-plaintiff (NetChoice), is that’s for private businesses to decide. That is the individual’s (business owner) choice about what to publish or not publish,” said Schruers. “And that’s critical because online services are fighting a perpetual battle against problematic and dangerous content and conduct online.”

Schruers mentioned the possible conduct that users see online such as “misinformation” and “extremism,” but acknowledged that while not illegal, these actions can violate private businesses’ terms of service.

“That is why we brought our suit,” said Schruers. “Not just to vindicate the First Amendment rights of our constituents, but to ensure that they can continue to have the flexibility to deliver on the commitments they’ve made to their users, to all of us, to address harmful content online.”

Furthermore, The Floridian asked CCIA about which statute – the Florida or the Texas bill – they feel more comfortable arguing against in the Supreme Court.

CCIA’s Vice President Stephanie Joyce said that “both statutes are deeply and widely problematic” and were “enacted to prevent websites from making choices.”

Joyce concluded, “They’re not identical, but both statutes are equally at risk of being overturned and equally violative of First Amendment.”

Florida’s bill argues that social media has become a digital town square where free speech should reside. Therefore, limiting speech would be an act of tyranny on its own.

Following the bill’s passage in May of 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) stated that Big Tech will be “held accountable” for indiscriminately enforcing rules.

“This session, we took action to ensure that ‘We the People’ — real Floridians across the Sunshine State — are guaranteed protection against the Silicon Valley elites,” said Gov. DeSantis. “Many in our state have experienced censorship and other tyrannical behavior firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela. If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable.”

CCIA and Schruers feel confident with precedent on their side. The Miami Herald won a Supreme Court case in 1974 that rejected the State of Florida’s ability to force news publications to provide “equal space to answer criticism and attacks on his record by a newspaper," also known as the "right to reply” bill.

Should the Supreme Court follow this precedent, it appears those defending Florida’s SB 7072 would have to prove that the government and Big Tech work together in a capacity in which the government is limiting speech in collaboration with Big Tech companies.

Or, those defending Florida’s bill would have to be persuasive enough to convince the Supreme Court that social media platforms should not have to enforce their guidelines due to the nature that the new “digital square” should be protected by the First Amendment.

A bill that was designed to protect the spirit of the First Amendment for Floridians could ultimately be rejected by the protections of the First Amendment.

The case was heard in the Supreme Court earlier this year. A decision from the Judicial Branch is expected in the coming days or weeks.

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Jackson Bakich

Jackson Bakich

Born in Orlando but raised in Lake County, Florida, Jackson Bakich is currently a senior at Florida State University. Growing up in the sunshine state, Bakich co-hosted the political talk radio show "Lake County Roundtable" (WLBE) and was a frequent guest for "Lake County Sports Show" (WQBQ). Currently, he is the Sports Editor of the FSView and the co-host of "Tomahawk Talk" (WVFS), a sports talk radio program covering Florida State athletics in Tallahassee.

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