The new Florida law that fines tech platforms for removing politicians has a huge loophole for companies that own theme parks in the state

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The new Florida law that fines tech platforms for removing politicians has a huge loophole for companies that own theme parks in the state
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisBill Clark/Getty Images
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law targeting big social-media companies.
  • Private citizens will be able to sue tech platforms for up to $100,000 if they've been treated unfairly.
  • The rules protecting free speech do not apply to companies that own theme parks in the state.

A specific exemption included in a new law signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to draw fire from critics including the Internet Association, an industry group representing 40 of the world's leading internet companies.

The legislation, SB 7072, was signed by DeSantis on Monday and bills itself as a way to hold tech companies accountable and protect individuals' ability to post, share, and access content on social media.

The law forces social-media companies to host all candidates for political office in the state, regardless of what they say, or face fines of up to $250,000 per day. In addition, private Florida citizens who feel they have been unfairly treated by the big tech companies will be able to sue the platforms for up to $100,000.

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"Many in our state have experienced censorship and other tyrannical behavior firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela," DeSantis said in a statement. "If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable."

But there's a massive loophole written into the law that exempts companies that own theme parks in the state.

"Social media," as defined by the bill, "does not include any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex."

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In other words, the new law won't apply to Disney, which operates Disney World in Florida, and Comcast, which operates Universal Studios. And other companies like Facebook and Twitter could avoid liability simply by opening - or simply buying - an amusement park in Florida.

Indeed, one Democratic lawmaker asked that very question in the debate over the bill back in April.

"If Facebook buys a theme park, does that prevent us from being able to regulate what happens on Facebook?" asked Rep. Andrew Learned, according to NBC Miami.

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"If they bought a theme park and named it Zuckerland and he met the definition of a theme park under Florida statute, then yes," Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia replied.

According to the statute, Zuckerland would need to have at least "25 contiguous acres" and serve at least 1 million visitors per year to be legally allowed to ignore the content rules on Facebook.

The bill also requires social-media companies to inform users of what types of content are allowed on their platforms - like the terms of service and acceptable use policies that users already must agree to in order to access their accounts.

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Companies would be further required to give notice when changing their policies, like those emails users already get that say "We're updating our policies."

If a news story is clearly untrue, but just so happens to come from a news outlet, social platforms would be prohibited from taking steps to make sure the fake news doesn't go viral, The Wall Street Journal reported.

"We the people are standing up to tech totalitarianism with the signing of Florida's Big Tech Bill," DeSantis said on Twitter.

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Another law in Texas, Senate Bill 12, echoes much of the language from the Florida legislation, calling for "protection from censorship or discriminatory enforcement of content regulations."

Some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have claimed that platforms like Facebook and Twitter censor right-wing voices, but research shows conservative content dominates online platforms.

Florida's SB 7072 is "more about politics than prevention, as the bill arbitrarily exempts major mass media corporations as long as they are also in the theme park business," said the Internet Association's senior vice president of state government affairs, Robert Callahan, in a statement on Monday.

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In addition, both the Florida and Texas rules apply only to platforms with more than 100 million users. Parler, a favorite app of conservatives, has just a fraction of that, and a Texas lawmaker's proposal to have the law apply to platforms with 25 million users was defeated.

"This type of legislation would make children and other vulnerable communities less safe by making it harder for us to remove content like pornography, hate speech, bullying, self-harm images and sexualized photos of minors," said Facebook's Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis, in a statement to the Austin Business Journal.

Florida's measure goes into effect on July 1, 2021.

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