Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Tuesday tore into Big Tech companies, calling them “enforcers of preferred narratives” whose economic interests are “not in the public interest” in a lengthy speech announcing new legislation to protect the privacy and free speech rights of Floridians from Silicon Valley.
“It’s high time that we step up to the plate to ensure the protection of the people and their rights,” DeSantis proclaimed, speaking to reporters at a press conference with Republican leaders from the state legislature.
The governor announced a new legislative effort to crack down on Big Tech, intending to limit social media companies’ ability to sell user information to advertisers for a profit and taking action to protect social media users amid accusations that Facebook and Twitter engage in censorship of certain viewpoints or information.
“At the turn of the 21st century, online technology represented tools to liberate Americans from reliance on distrusted legacy media outlets. As social media proliferated over the past decade, citizens could directly connect with large numbers of people and could cut out corporate media outlets entirely,” DeSantis said. “Over the years, however, these platforms have changed from neutral platforms that provided Americans with the freedom to speak to enforcers of preferred narratives.”
He added, “These platforms have played an increasingly decisive role in elections and have negatively impacted Americans who dissent from orthodoxies favored by the Big Tech cartel.”
DeSantis voiced concerns shared by many conservatives and Republicans that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have grown too powerful and have too much control over the spread of information on the internet. He criticized these websites for their seemingly arbitrary enforcement action against conservative content, for deplatforming users secretively without telling them which terms of service they violated beforehand, for engaging in “viewpoint discrimination” and holding double standards for content moderation, and for potentially manipulating elections by controlling the spread of information.
DeSantis cited multiple examples of overreach by social media content moderators, including the censorship of criticism of coronavirus lock downs, banning the sitting U.S. president, the suppression of the New York Post’s bombshell Hunter Biden story, and the “decapitation” of Parler, a Twitter alternative popular with President Donald Trump’s supporters that was kicked offline by Amazon Web Services for purportedly failing to impose satisfactory content moderation.
“Big tech has come to look more like Big Brother with each passing day,” DeSantis remarked, accusing tech companies of holding “monopoly power over a centrally important forum of public discourse.”
“Nameless, faceless boards of censors” are violating the free speech rights of Floridians, and Big Tech is “not entitled to track your every move,” he declared.
“Our Founding Fathers were deliberate in the enshrinement of our rights in the Constitution to ensure that we the people were guaranteed protection against those wishing to violate our rights,” he said.
“Ironically, our early founders were most concerned with the tyranny of government in deciding these rights, but today the Big Tech oligarchy has in many ways become a clear and more present danger to the restriction of the right to free speech than the government itself,” DeSantis continued.
He went on to say, “Silicon Valley CEOs wield extraordinary power, to the point of holistically controlling the flow of vast swaths of information in our country. In a matter of hours, a business can be dismantled, a community of friends and colleagues canceled, and even a sitting president of the United States silenced.
“By their own admission, social media companies view themselves as platforms of global, regional, and local connectivity. Make no mistake, they are nothing more than advertising conglomerates, and I’m not interested in handing over the keys to the public square to a bunch of companies whose economic interests are not aligned with the public interest.”
The governor unveiled several legislative proposals that state Republicans will attempt to pass to crack down on unfair practices by big tech companies. They include:
Requiring social media platforms to give proper notice and disclosure of changes to their content standards or terms of service and provide full disclosure of any actions taken against a user for violating their standards.
Prevent social media platforms from rapidly changing these standards and applying them unequally against users.
Provide users the option to opt out of the various algorithms these platforms use to steer content or suppress content from the view of other users.
Provide users the ability to bring lawsuits against tech companies and empower the Florida attorney general to bring actions against a tech company for violations of these requirements under Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
“Web hosting, the payment processing, take away your email, your text, you could totally neuter a candidates ability to communicate and execute a campaign plan,” DeSantis warned.
His proposals include:
Imposing a daily $100,000 fine on a tech company that deplatforms a candidate for elected office in Florida during an election until the candidate’s access to the platform is restored.
If a tech company promotes one candidate for office against another, the value of that free promotion must be recorded as a political campaign contribution enforced by the Florida Elections Commission.
If a tech company uses algorithms to suppress or prioritize the access of any content related to a political cause or candidate on the ballot, that company will face daily fines.
“The message is loud and clear: When it comes to elections in Florida, Big Tech should stay out of it,” DeSantis said.