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Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida GOP Lawmakers Target Big Tech After Trump Social Media Ban

Rep. Randy Fine is seeking to prohibit state agencies and local governments from contracting with some tech-industry giants.
News Service of Florida
Rep. Randy Fine is seeking to prohibit state agencies and local governments from contracting with some tech-industry giants.

Rep. Randy Fine says companies such as Facebook and Twitter "continue to shut down the thoughts of half our state."

Trying to return former President Donald Trump and other banned conservatives to social-media platforms, two Florida lawmakers filed proposals Tuesday that would prohibit state agencies and local governments from contracting with some tech-industry giants.

The proposals (SB 810 and HB 439), filed by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, target Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple and Alphabet.

“Our goal is for these companies to realize that they have made a mistake and reverse course, so we never actually have to do this,” Fine said during a news conference outside the Old Capitol. “But should they continue to shut down the thoughts of half of our state, then we have to stand up for those folks and say, ‘Look, if you want to boycott Florida, we are going to boycott you.’”

Gruters, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said conservative voices are being “suppressed” and that tech companies are so large they are the “public square.”

Gruters said the companies could avoid the sanctions by “not suppressing conservative voices.”

“It's letting people like President Trump back on Twitter. It’s letting people like the 70,000 conservative voices that have already been suppressed back on Twitter,” Gruters said.

Two days after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Twitter banned Trump’s account, which for years had been one of his main vehicles for communicating with the public.

In its decision, Twitter said that after “close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them --- specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter --- we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”

“Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly,” the company added. “It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open. However, we made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things. We will continue to be transparent around our policies and their enforcement.”

Asked about Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, Gruters said the Legislature is addressing that through a separate proposal (HB 1 and SB 484) aimed at cracking down on violent protests.

“Regardless of political affiliation, regardless of what side you're on, if you are a violent, young thug, if you are doing damage, if you are looting, if you are committing any type of offense against any type of officer, you are going to go to jail,” Gruters said.

Democrats, however, have said the violent-protest legislation, initially floated in September, is overkill and is designed to quash the voices of Black and brown Floridians.

The bills announced Tuesday, in addition to prohibiting state agencies or local governments from contracting with the technology companies, would prohibit Florida governments from using products in which more than 25 percent of the parts were made in China.

Fine and Gruters said they included China in the bill for failing to protect the world from COVID-19.

Fine said supporters of the bill hope Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Cabinet also will take up the big-tech issue, similar to when Airbnb was put on a state list of “scrutinized” companies in 2019 over the company’s plan to eliminate about 200 listings in the West Bank, an area that is a major flash point in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Florida’s scrutinized-companies list, in part, prohibits state investment in firms that boycott Israel. Airbnb was removed from the list after the company decided against delisting the West Bank properties.

On Jan. 12, state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis tweeted support for divesting Florida from the technology companies.

“We should consider getting this on the next Cabinet agenda,” Patronis tweeted. “Big-tech coordinated to shut down conservative accounts but still allows (Venezuela leader) Nicolás Maduro to spread lies.”

A Feb. 2 Cabinet agenda does not include the issue.

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