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Gov. DeSantis And Florida GOP Leaders Take On Big Tech

Gov. Ron DeSantis

Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to fine social media companies if they kicked candidates off their platforms during an election. Plus – more Publix stores are getting COVID-19 vaccines, but are they accessible to everyone?

Gov. Ron DeSantis' self-described top priority for the upcoming legislative session is social media speech.

This week, he appeared with the state’s top two legislative leaders to push for a package of new rules aimed at Twitter, Facebook and other social media giants. The platforms kicked off former President Donald Trump in early January after the insurrection on Capitol Hill.

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On Tuesday, DeSantis said the proposed rules would fine social media companies if they block a politician for any reason.

"Under our proposal, if a technology company de-platforms a candidate for elected office in Florida during an election, a company will face a daily fine of $100,000 until the candidate’s access to the platform is restored," he said.

Critics have called the DeSantis broadside at big tech unenforceable, probably unconstitutional and, just a piece of political theatre.

In announcing this legislative effort this week, Senate President Wilton Simpson said, "The big tech companies have a duty to allow different views on their public platforms."

"No, they don't have a duty to allow different viewpoints on their platform," said Jasmine McNealy, associate professor of communications at the University of Florida and associate director the the school's First Amendment Project. "And quite frankly, the attempt to impose them would run afoul of the of the First Amendment."

She used an analogy of one's home.

"You invite people in, but in your house you have certain rules," she said. "And when people don't follow our rules you have the right not to invite them over anymore."

DeSantis and supporters of the legislative effort want to regulate how the platforms notify users of changes to their terms and conditions. They also argue the social media giants apply their terms and conditions inconsistently.

For instance, rejecting President Trump while still allowing the Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to post even though Twitter is banned in Iran.

"In that way, he's correct," said McNealy. "These are still private spaces, private platforms. So even if I decide to change the rules ... guess what? It's still my house and you still have to play by my rules."

Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and others liken today's social media services as the "town square – a place where we can share our thoughts, our ideas and our beliefs with fellow citizens."

McNealy points out there are plenty of barriers to social media mimicking the town square such as a lack of internet access and lack of accessibility for people with disabilities.

"A public square is where the government cannot tell people they cannot speak or express themselves. Facebook is not the government. Google is not the government," she said.

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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.