Florida has asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether states can force social media companies to host content they’d rather take down — in what could spark a landmark battle over digital speech rights and content moderation that could reshape the country’s relationship with First Amendment relationship.
In a petition filed in court on Wednesday, Florida’s attorney general argued that the dominance of major social media platforms and their ability to promote the views of some users above others, meaning judges have an opinion on the issue up to important.
“The question of whether the First Amendment essentially makes it impossible for the states — and possibly the federal government — to meaningfully address these distortions, should be answered by this court, now,” the petition said.
At the heart of the court battle is a Florida law, SB 7072, that allows political candidates to sue social media companies if they are blocked or removed from platforms for more than 14 days.
Opponents representing the tech industry have sued to block the law, saying it violates the First Amendment rights of private companies. A federal appeals court agreed with that reasoning earlier this year, leading Florida to ask the Supreme Court to intervene this week.
If SB 7072 survives legal challenges, tech companies could be forced to host spam, hate speech and other legal but questionable material on their platforms, mainstream legal experts say. It could also rewrite decades of First Amendment precedent that barred the government from forcing private groups to give speeches, they said.
In a statement Wednesday, NetChoice, one of the challengers to the Florida law, welcomed the Florida petition.
“We agree that the U.S. Supreme Court in Florida should hear this case, and we believe that First Amendment rights will be upheld,” said Carl Szabo, NetChoice’s vice president and general counsel. “We look forward to seeing Florida in court and upholding the lower court’s decision. We have 200 years of precedent.”
A few days ago, another federal appeals court upheld a similar law in Texas that allows social media users to sue platforms if they “block, ban, delete, de-platform, de-monetize, de-promote , restrict, deny equal access or visibility, or otherwise discriminate against speech.” (In May, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Texas law from taking effect, while the lawsuit continues.)
The Fifth Circuit’s decision to uphold the Texas law last week contrasts with a ruling by the Eleventh Circuit earlier this year that ruled Florida’s law unconstitutional — creating a circuit appeal that brought the Supreme Court more likely to intervene.