Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday that punishes Big Tech for de-platforming and censoring Americans.
The logic of such bills is straightforward: as social media has become the digital town square where we debate and discuss issues, it has a greater responsibility to provide a level playing field.
Instead, social media is increasingly censoring people for all kinds of reasons and no logical reasons at all. It even de-platformed people for positing the theory that the coronavirus originated in that lab in Wuhan, China. Now that’s become a common topic of conversation, with even Dr. Fauci getting into it.
During the signing ceremony for the law, a reporter asked if the whole thing was really about getting Donald Trump back on social media.
Gov. DeSantis made a salient, if obvious, point about the choices social media giants make in de-platforming.
“When you de-platform the president of the United States but let Ayatollah Khomenei talk about killing Jews, that is wrong.”
Gov. DeSantis strafed the stupid question so powerfully the assembled crowd erupted in applause.
And then a standing ovation.
The duly schooled reporter should go and look up the 1946 Supreme Court case Marsh vs. Alabama. It’s instructive on the question of what responsibilities large companies take upon themselves when they effectively own the town square.
Although Marsh was decided at the end of the era of company towns, its central holding has remained a guiding principle of constitutional law. Two decades later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 limited private property owners’ ability to refuse entry or service to individuals on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin in places of public accommodation. Additionally, Marsh became the conceptual foundation for PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980) and other cases in which individuals claimed First Amendment rights of speech and free exercise in shopping malls, airports, and other quasi-public spaces.
State laws such as the one DeSantis signed won’t, by themselves, protect free speech rights. They will provide the basis for court cases to wind their way up to SCOTUS, where, if the Marsh precedent holds, Big Tech will take a big loss.
Besides all that, it’s fun to watch a Republican who knows how to give back good and hard when reporters gets snarky and beclowns themselves.