Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation on Monday to penalize Big Tech for de-platforming private citizens and political candidates. The bill, which was passed last month by the Florida legislature, would allow Floridians who are banned from platforms to sue for damages and imposes hefty fines — up to $250,000 each day — on tech companies that boot political candidates.
DeSantis signed the bill during an event at Florida International University that featured remarks from local citizens, political activists and elected officials, most of whom were of Latin American descent. Cubans and Venezuelans warned that Big Tech’s crackdown on free speech was reminiscent of their home countries’ slide into socialism and thanked DeSantis for pushing back on online censorship. Project Veritas’s James O’Keefe was also in attendance.
I caught up with DeSantis after the bill signing to ask him a few questions about his fight against Big Tech censorship.
AA: Some of your opponents have already expressed a desire to put forth a legal challenge to this bill. Are you concerned at all that this could be struck down by the courts?
RD: It will absolutely be challenged, so we know that. I mean, obviously, we know that they are too powerful of an industry, you know, they don’t want any accountability so they’re going to do whatever they can. But I think if you notice how we did it, this isn’t a direct challenge to Section 230, because we understand that that’s something that would be federally preempted. So I think if you’re acting as a publisher, I think you should be able to be liable for defamation and things like that. We don’t even get in that. We’re basically advancing a state consumer fraud theory. You know, they’re advertising certain things, they have certain service terms. They’re not abiding by that. That is a fraud on the public. So we think that that will be upheld, but we absolutely anticipate litigation.
AA: Just a few years ago, people like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg were talking about their platforms as being places for free speech. What do you think has changed since then?
RD: I think the main thing was Trump getting elected because he used it very effectively — and I think kind of the elite leftist society was not accepting of that, most people in Silicon Valley didn’t want to accept that. And so I think they transitioned from being platforms that allowed individuals to have a voice and really to go around the legacy media. Really, Facebook and all these [platforms] initially were a big threat to places like the New York Times and NBC. Now they decided, no, no, no, we can’t let this get out of hand. So they said, ‘we’re going to enforce orthodoxy, we’re going to suppress the views that really challenged the narrative’. You know, the result has been disastrous because it’s just like, they de-platform Trump, but they keep up the Ayatollah, they’ll de-platform a conservative for raising a question about a lockdown or about the [COVID-19] lab leak. And yet you have people that are spouting really ridiculous things on the left and that’s just totally fine. So they kind of have gotten themselves into, I think, an untenable situation. But I do think it was a deliberate decision by the overlords in Silicon Valley that they did not want their platforms being used if it was going to empower ideas with which they disagreed.
AA: What do you think next steps are for Florida in protecting consumers against Big Tech?
RD: The next thing we’re going to do next year — [today’s legislation] is kind of a transparency platform piece — we’re going to do a big data privacy bill to protect Floridians from having their data taken and monetized without their consent. I mean, these companies make billions of dollars and you don’t even know they’re doing it. You have an iPhone, you just put it on your front seat and drive somewhere, you’re not even using the phone, they’re constantly pulling data and they’re using that to make a lot of money off you. We believe that consumers should be the ones to determine whether someone can take and use and sell their data. We actually were working on that this session, kind of had a disagreement between our two chambers and we figured, you know what, we’re going to probably have to reset it, get it to where everyone can kind of agree to where it’s effective. I mean, what I want is something to give consumers recourse against Big Tech. I don’t want it to be where a trial lawyer will try to sue some small business for some fictitious reason. So we’ve just got to get that balance right.
During his remarks at the bill signing, the governor addressed the usual imagery associated with ‘tyrants’, saying, ‘Maybe this isn’t as much the bearded tyrant in the military fatigues. Maybe the person is in pajamas on their laptop drinking a soy latte in Silicon Valley.’ He also referred to Florida, in its leadership on Big Tech, school choice and COVID-19 restrictions, as America’s ‘West Berlin.’
The crowd erupted in raucous applause and cheers when DeSantis took on a reporter who asked if the new legislation was intended mainly to benefit former president Donald Trump, who recently became a Florida resident and is still banned from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. DeSantis replied that the bill is ‘for everyone’ and referenced the hypocrisy of Twitter banning Trump but refusing to remove Iran’s Ayatollah, who called for ‘vengeance’ against the 45th president and routinely tweets anti-Semitic content.
He also addressed concerns that the legislation is a ‘big government’ solution that will infringe on the free market, arguing that social media platforms have essentially become the ‘public square’ whose monopolistic actions give them far too much power over competitors.
‘We are protecting Floridians’ ability to speak and express their opinions,’ DeSantis said. ‘This will lead to more speech, not less speech because speech that’s inconvenient to the narrative will be protected.’
Two campus employees spotted the governor just before he left in his small motorcade and were near tears with excitement. DeSantis stopped to embrace the women and took a photo with them before heading off on his next move.