(The Center Square) – Facebook and Twitter’s decisions to suspend or ban President Donald Trump over the risk he may incite additional violence after last week's riot at the U.S. Capitol are drawing the ire of Trump supporters and First Amendment advocates nationwide and in Florida.
State Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, noting Apple, Amazon and Google also pulled the plug on the conservative-leaning app Parler, said Florida lawmakers need to address abuses by “monopolized monster social media companies.”
Burgess filed Senate Bill 520 on Monday. It would require social media websites provide individual and business users notice the website has suspended or disabled a user’s account with some recourse available to restore the account.
SB 520 is an “innovative and timely piece of legislation,” Burgess tweeted, that “originated from numerous constituents facing issues by these monopolized monster social media companies right in our own backyard. Our work on this issue has only just begun.”
Under the proposed bill, “if an individual or business user’s social media website account is disabled or suspended by the social media website, the owner or operator of the website must provide electronic notice to the user within 30 days after taking such action. The notice must be in writing and must explain why the user’s account was suspended or disabled.”
If adopted, the law would go into effect July 1.
Burgess served in the Florida House from 2014-19 before being named state veterans’ affairs director by Gov. Ron DeSantis in December 2018. He was elected to the state Senate in November during a District 20 special election that was forced by the resignation of Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, before his term expired.
As a Senate freshman, Burgess has filed two of what are sure to be among the most contentious bills of the 2021 legislative session that begins March 2, with some preliminary committee meetings beginning this week in Tallahassee.
Burgess also has sponsored Senate Bill 484, the proposed Combating Public Disorder Act, which would crack down on violent protests and prohibit local governments from trimming law enforcement budgets without meeting extensive criteria.
Regulating social media has posed numerous constitutional issues, with most legal experts agreeing the First Amendment only covers public platforms, such as government and schools, and cannot be applied in the same manner to private entities, such as social media companies or private schools.
“It seems to me that the government explicitly has granted Facebook, Twitter, and others immunity under federal law,” Burgess said in a statement. “As publishers of third-party content, they should not be allowed to discriminate based on content and ban individuals just because they do not agree with their viewpoint.”
Burgess said he will file an amendment to SB 520 to specifically address “social media censorship” with “the First Amendment as its grounding.”
“This bill goes a step further by signaling to social media websites that regardless of a person’s background, political history, religion, race, gender, or any other identifying measure, Twitter and Facebook cannot be the sole judge, jury, and executioner on American’s First Amendment rights,” Burgess said. “For better or for worse, social media has become a major part of our everyday life and society. These unilateral actions set a terrifying precedent that must be addressed appropriately.”
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, a former state representative, applauded Burgess’ proposed bill.
“Deep inside every digital Woketopian beats the heart of an online Tyrant,” Gaetz tweeted.