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State Seeks to Lift Injunction On Social Media Law

A user of social media application software on a smartphone.
Towfiqu Photography/Getty Images

Attorneys for the state are asking a federal appeals court to lift most of a preliminary injunction against a controversial new law aimed at punishing social-media companies that strip users from platforms or flag users’ posts.

In a brief filed this week, lawyers for Gov. Ron DeSantis and state elections officials also asked the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to schedule oral arguments. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in June issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law from being enforced, saying it was “riddled with imprecision and ambiguity.”

Online-industry groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represent e-commerce businesses and social-media behemoths such as Facebook and Twitter, filed the lawsuit challenging the measure pushed by DeSantis and approved by Republican lawmakers this spring. Hinkle found the plaintiffs “are likely to prevail on the merits of their claim that these statutes violate the First Amendment.”

But in this week’s brief, the state’s attorneys argued that the appeals court should allow nearly all sections of the law to go into effect. The “overall legislative intent” of the law “is to preserve the speech rights of social media users,” Charles Cooper, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Cooper & Kirk, PLLC firm, and other lawyers for the state wrote.

The law, one of the most contentious issues of the 2021 legislative session, in part seeks to prevent large social-media platforms from banning political candidates from their sites and to require companies to publish — and apply consistently — standards about issues such as banning users or blocking their content. The law also regulates platforms’ use of “post-prioritization,” which occurs when social media sites use algorithms to prioritize content in users’ newsfeeds or timelines. The law requires platforms to reveal post-prioritization algorithms and allow users to opt-out and bans platforms from using post-prioritization for content and material posted by or about users who are political candidates.

In the brief, the state’s lawyers said “at this time” the defendants are not asking the court to lift the preliminary injunction on the part of the law regulating post-prioritization. The state disputed Hinkle’s rationale for the preliminary injunction, arguing that the law does not violate social-media platforms’ speech rights. The law “places modest limits on social media platforms’ hosting function — limiting how and why platforms may remove or restrict users and user-generated speech — while largely leaving it to the platforms themselves to decide which speech to host and which content moderation policies to adopt,” the state’s lawyers wrote.

News Service of Florida