Civil Liberties

Florida's Social Media Bill Was Supposed To Protect 'Free Speech.' A Judge Says It Violates the First Amendment.

Plus: How Trump lost in 2020, Amazon seeks recusal of FTC chair, and more...

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First Amendment protects right of social media companies to boot politicians. Florida's controversial and authoritarian new social media law has been temporarily blocked by a federal court. The measure—championed and signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in May—bans large social media providers from deplatforming political candidates, beginning July 1.

It also prohibits social media providers from suppressing or prioritizing any information "posted by or about a user" who is a candidate for political office, and from suppressing or adding addendums to posts by a "journalistic enterprise" based on the outlet's content. Those that violate this directive would face fines of up to $250,000 per day (though some of Florida's favored companies, like Disney, are exempted from the law).

On Wednesday, Judge Robert L. Hinkle of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida ruled that the law violated the First Amendment.

Florida's assertion that it is on the side of the First Amendment "is perhaps a nice sound bite," wrote Hinkle. "But the assertion is wholly at odds with accepted constitutional principles." 

"The legislation compels providers to host speech that violates their standards—speech they otherwise would not host—and forbids providers from speaking as they otherwise would," noted Hinkle in his decision. Moreover, "the Governor's signing statement and numerous remarks of legislators show rather clearly that the legislation is viewpoint-based."

The social media measure also runs up against provisions of the federal communications law Section 230, which—as Hinkle points out—"expressly prohibits imposition of liability on an interactive computer service—this includes a social-media provider—for action taken in good faith to restrict access to material the service finds objectionable." 

The judge granted a preliminary injunction against the law, as requested by tech industry associations NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, and ordered the state to "take no steps to enforce" the portions of the law that violate the First Amendment or are preempted by Section 230.

"The legislation now at issue was an effort to rein in social-media providers deemed too large and too liberal," concluded Hinkle. But "balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest."


FREE MINDS

How Trump lost 2020. An interesting and detailed new report from Pew Research Center dissects the demographics of the 2020 election. "A number of factors determined the composition of the 2020 electorate and explain how it delivered Biden a victory," notes Pew. "Among those who voted for Clinton and Trump in 2016, similar shares of each – about nine-in-ten – also turned out in 2020, and the vast majority remained loyal to the same party in the 2020 presidential contest."

Trump did gain in 2020 among women and among Hispanics. But this was offset by Biden's gains among men, suburban voters, and white non-college-educated voters.

The juxtaposition saw a significant narrowing last year of the voting gender gap seen in 2016:

Biden made gains with men, while Trump improved among women, narrowing the gender gap. The gender gap in the 2020 election was narrower than it had been in 2016, both because of gains that Biden made among men and because of gains Trump made among women. In 2020, men were almost evenly divided between Trump and Biden, unlike in 2016 when Trump won men by 11 points. Trump won a slightly larger share of women's votes in 2020 than in 2016 (44% vs. 39%), while Biden's share among women was nearly identical to Clinton's (55% vs. 54%).

Last year's election also saw boomers and older voters become a minority:

After decades of constituting the majority of voters, Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation made up less than half of the electorate in 2020 (44%), falling below the 52% they constituted in both 2016 and 2018. Gen Z and Millennial voters favored Biden over Trump by margins of about 20 points, while Gen Xers and Boomers were more evenly split in their preferences. Gen Z voters, those ages 23 and younger, constituted 8% of the electorate, while Millennials and Gen Xers made up 47% of 2020 voters.


FREE MARKETS

Amazon wants Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan recused. The new FTC head has been a very vocal critic of Amazon in the past, including publicly opining that the company is "guilty of antitrust violations and should be broken up." In a motion filed Wednesday, Amazon suggests there's no way Khan can or will be impartial in any antitrust probes into the company.

An Amazon spokesperson, Jack Evans, told CNBC that while "Amazon should be scrutinized along with all large organizations," it still has "the right to an impartial investigation," and "Khan's body of work and public statements demonstrate that she has prejudged the outcome of matters the FTC may examine during her term and, under established law, preclude her from participating in such matters."


QUICK HITS

• Ask Reason Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward anything—today on Reddit at 3 p.m!

• The Trump Organization and its chief financial officer have been indicted by a grand jury in Manhattan. "The specific charges against the company and its chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg, were not immediately clear," The New York Times reports. The indictment is slated to be unsealed later today, after Trump Organization lawyers and CFO Allen H. Weisselberg appear in court.

• Dysfunction inside Vice President Kamala Harris' office: "In interviews, 22 current and former vice presidential aides, administration officials and associates of Harris and Biden described a tense and at times dour office atmosphere," reports Politico. "Ideas are ignored or met with harsh dismissals and decisions are dragged out. Often, they said, she refuses to take responsibility for delicate issues and blames staffers for the negative results that ensue."

• Why aren't people looking for jobs? In a new survey from job search site Indeed, 25 percent of out-of-work folks without college degrees cited COVID-19 concerns, 20 percent said they had enough financial cushion for now, 20 percent said child care precluded it, and 12 percent said unemployment insurance made it unnecessary.

• The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Biden administration over the transfer to ICE of people being detained at a New Jersey jail.

• Matt Taibbi and Jane Coaston debate the power of Fox News.

• Maine Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill that would have instituted asymmetric criminalization of prostitution.

• Bill Cosby is being released from prison:

• Starting today, "Virginia becomes the first state in the South where it's legal for people 21 and older to possess and grow small amounts of pot."

• New Orleans and North Carolina are also advancing marijuana decriminalization or medical marijuana legalization measures.

• U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D–Wash.) is pushing back against South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem for allowing private funding of a National Guard deployment. "The one thing we're going to do on the Armed Services Committee is we're going to put pressure on the secretary of defense and everyone else to say, 'This should not be happening. How do we make it stop?'" Smith said on NBC's Meet the Press yesterday.

• D.C.'s city council voted this week to ban the sale of menthol and flavored cigarettes.

• New Mexico stands alone: