By CURT ANDERSON
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A Florida law intended to punish social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, dealing a major victory to companies who had been accused by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis of discriminating against conservative thought.
A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously concluded that it was overreach for DeSantis and the Republican-led Florida Legislature to tell the social media companies how to conduct their work under the Constitution’s free speech guarantee.
“Put simply, with minor exceptions, the government can’t tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it,” said Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, in the opinion. “We hold that it is substantially likely that social media companies — even the biggest ones — are private actors whose rights the First Amendment protects.”
The ruling upholds a similar decision by a Florida federal district judge on the law, which was signed by DeSantis in 2021. It was part of an overall conservative effort to portray social media companies as generally liberal in outlook and hostile to ideas outside of that viewpoint, especially from the political right.
“Some of these massive, massive companies in Silicon Valley are exerting a power over our population that really has no precedent in American history,” DeSantis said during a May 2021 bill-signing ceremony. “One of their major missions seems to be suppressing ideas.”
The appeals panel disagreed, with Judge Newsom writing that Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and others are “engaged in constitutionally protected expressive activity when they moderate and curate the content that they disseminate on their platforms.”
There was no immediate response to emails Monday afternoon from DeSantis’ press secretary or communications director on the ruling. DeSantis is running for reelection this year and eyeing a potential run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. He was the first governor to sign a bill like this into law, although similar ones have been proposed in other states.
Associated Press writers Mark Sherman in Washington and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee contributed to this story.
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